Cat and the Canary (The)
R2 - United Kingdom - Fabulous Films
Review written by and copyright: Matthew Crossman (26th July 2015).
The Film

Lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) arrives at the former house of Cyrus Norman in the Louisiana Bayou. Norman passed away ten years ago to the day and Crosby is there to read Norman’s will at the exact moment of his passing, a decade earlier, at the stroke of midnight. Joining Crosby are the last known relatives of Norman. Fred Blythe (John Beal), Charles Wilder (Douglass Montgomery), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson), Cicily (Nydia Westman), Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), and film star and comedian Wally Campbell (Bob Hope). Also present at the reading of the will is Norman’s housekeeper, who has stayed on to tend to the house in the intervening years, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard). The will is read and everything goes to Joyce Norman on the condition that she shows no signs of mental illness for a month after the reading and that she is also still alive within that time. If either condition is not met then a second heir will inherit Cyrus’ fortune. To make matters worse a guard from the local mental asylum soon shows up and informs those gathered that a madman has escaped. He is a killer who likes to prowl on all fours and is nicknamed ‘The Cat’. With no more boats available to ferry the relatives across the bayou until morning all those gathered must stay the night in the house. Shortly after this announcement Crosby the lawyer goes missing, seeming disappearing into thin air whilst talking with Joyce but we see that he has been abducted via a secret passageway in the wall. Joyce is then given a letter by Miss Lu, who was instructed by Cyrus to present it to his heir. The letter contains a riddle leading to hidden treasure, which in the case is a priceless necklace of diamonds and emeralds. Joyce and Wally decipher the clue and retrieve the necklace. As Joyce goes to sleep, with the necklace under her pillow, a hand emerges from a secret compartment behind her bed and tries to attack her. Joyce flees but finds her door locked and the key missing. Wally then comforts Joyce where he discovers the secret compartment the hand came through and also the body of the lawyer Crosby who has been murdered. The remaining relatives gather and start to cast aspersions on Wally as he seems to know too much. Joyce dismisses this. Fred, Charles, Cicily, and Aunt Susan go to bed whilst Wally decides to go back to the corpse of Crosby in the belief that if they open the second envelope with the second name they will discover the name of the murderer.

‘The Cat and the Canary’ was originally a play written in 1922 by John Willard. It was first filmed in 1927, and then again in 1930 as ‘The Cat Creeps’ which is now, sadly, considered a ‘lost film‘. A Spanish version was also filmed at the same time, called ‘La Voluntad del merto’ (The Will of the Dead Man). This, the fourth filmed version, was initially distributed by Paramount Pictures and was played completely straight apart from the comedic efforts of Bob Hope. Hope is on top form in this version. Without a straight plan to play against (as he did with Bing Crosby in the ‘Road’ movies) Hope plays against himself as the coward with a brave streak as long as it involves his love interest Joyce. The play elements of the story are clear in the film as most exposition takes place in a serious of rooms and even the scenes shot in the bayou are clearly stage based. However, this does not detracted from an excellent murder mystery with the added element of horror and comedy thrown in for good measure. The sets are all wonderful and watching the film it’s easy to get a real feel and lay out for the house. The cast are all very good with Bob Hope the clear stand out. This sort of ‘ dark, old house’ film has been done many more times before and since but ‘The Cat And The Canary’ stands out clearly as one of the best. At seventy four minutes the story whizzes along and there is no time to get bored. Anyone with a love for films of this era or the golden age of horror (1921-1945) will no doubt love this production. Perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon for all the family.

Video

Having only seen this once before on the Orbit Media DVD I was amazed at the difference. This presentation in the 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio is quite stunning compared to previous DVD’s. The Orbit Media version was clearly a VHS transfer and this version from Fabulous films blows it out of the water. Blacks are quite deep, and there is some inherent grain but that is part of the appeal to this presentation. I did detect some scenes looking soft, maybe so over exuberant use of DVNR, not a huge amount. For a film over seventy years old this DVD looks amazing.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The sound quality is superb. Dialogue comes through the centre speaker with complete clarity whilst the score is divided ably via the front left and right speakers. There are, sadly, no subtitles. Still, a crisp and clear soundtrack, better than I have ever encountered with this film and nary a hint of hiss nor pop.

Extras

Trailer (3:38) - A good example of the amount of work that has gone into the main feature presentation can be seen by viewing the trailer present here. Quite clearly no work has gone into restoring the trailer and the difference between the two is enormous.

Lobby Card Gallery (0:24) - A brief selection of lobby cards accompanied by the soundtrack to the film.

Stills Gallery (0:39) - A selection of mainly publicity stills from the film, once again, accompanied by music from the main theme of the soundtrack.

Poster Gallery (0:09) Three posters are highlighted here from the film.

Overall

An excellent film from a bygone era and perfect for all the family. Mystery, suspense, horror and comedy are all catered for. Bob Hope is at his best and the rest of the cast do not disappoint. The picture quality is superb, especially compared to previous DVD presentations. A word of warning. The cover to this, the Fabulous Films issue, is almost identical to the Orbit Media issue which is extremely poor, so make sure you buy the right disc to avoid disappointment. Recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: C Overall: A-

 


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