When a millionaire dies, his greedy relatives are gathered in his old spooky house. When the clock strikes midnight, the will is scheduled to be read. And they’ll be in for a treat.
I always tend to get a bit soft and emotional when commenting on old films, such as the 1927 version of ‘The Cat and the Canary’. Just imagine … 85 years of age, this film, and it still manages to find its way to new audiences. Every member of the cast and crew is long dead and – to put it a bit less respectful – decomposed, but at least their legacy will live on for much longer than mine or yours (probably). ‘The Cat and the Canary’ even still in this day and age manages to reach fairly large new audiences, as I watched it in an artsy theater – the Brussels Cinematek – during the 5th Offscreen Film Festival. A screening completed with musical guidance on the piano.
Paul Leni‘s version of ‘The Cat and the Canary’ isn’t just the first of many adaptations of the famous stage play by John Willard, it also still stands as the ultimate and most prototypical ‘Old Dark House’ horror movie. All the trademarks – commonly referred to as clichés nowadays – can be found here in this trendsetter, and presumably for the first time ever: the reading of the will at midnight, the ominous housemaid, the mysteriously vanishing notary, the secret passageways in the library and behind the bed, the clumsy comic relief cousin – and yes – even the predictable identity of the maniacal killer on the loose.
This film is a joy to behold, thanks to the splendid performances (particularly Tully Marshall as the stern notary, Martha Maddox as the creepy maid and Laura La Plante as the cherubic victim) and the atmosphere that is simultaneously frightful and light-headed! Through some imaginative camera angles, Leni generates and handful of spooky moments but the overall tone remains accessible for wider audiences. There are a few obvious holes in the plot (like for example the main heiress being too young for a testament that lingered around for two decades) but you will gladly overlook those. Silence is golden!
Watch the film in a theater near you! And if not,… there’s always YouTube.