Ask some young film students or filmbuffs to name what they think are some of the most influential early films of cinema. Chances are you'll hear "Birth of A Nation", "Battleship Potemkin" and "Citizen Kane", but, I'd like to elect one more film to that list Paul Leni's "The Cat and the Canary".
"The Cat and the Canary" originally started off as a Broadway play in 1922 and was made into (as far as I know) three films. The most famous being the 1939 adaptation starring Bob Hope. But this 1927 version just dazzles you with its techinal achievements. It has inspiring cinematography by Gilbert Warrenton and remarkable editing from Martin G. Cohn. There are plenty of shots I'm willing to bet were ahead of their time, mostly dealing with fade in's and out's.
If you were to ask me, is this movie scary? I would have to answer no. "The Cat and the Canary" is just too dated to scare anyone. We've seen this far too many times for it to give us "thrills and chills", but, what makes this movie so entertaining to watch is it is an exercise in style and atmosphere. It is the cinematography and the mood the film creates that will capture your attention. This film set-up what we now refer to as "haunted house" movies.
Paul Leni, for those who don't know is revered as one of the great German expressionist through such films as "The Man Who Laughs" and "Waxworks". And these three films are seen as the last of there kind.
"The Cat and the Canary" as I said help establish what we now refer to as "haunted house" movies. The plot revolves around the death of Cyrus West, a millionair who's relatives hounded him like cats around a canary (hence the title). His will, as ordered by him, will be opened twenty years after his death. So a few of them show up to his dark eerie castle where legend has it is haunted by his spirit. The movie stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West. She was very much in demand during the silent era and made some sound pictures including "Show Boat" and "The King of Jazz" (featuring Paul Whiteman). and Creighton Hale as Paul Jones (after you see his performance you'll understand perfectly why they remade it as a Bob Hope vehicle). He too was once popular but when sound came in, he was reduced to very small bit parts often going "uncredited". As you watch the movie you can expect every cliche attempt at horror you can think of. Some of which are still used today. Creepy hands appearing out of nowhere, the "offbeat" looking characters who you just suspect are evil and as mentioned before, that eerie atmosphere.
Fans of silent films or even young film students I urge you to see this movie. You will be impressed.
Bottom-line: As far as I'm concerned should be considered one of the most influential films of all-time due to its impressive cinematography and editing. An exercise in style and atmosphere that actually works.