The Cat and the Canary
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This vintage terror tale remains a frightening cinematic classic and blueprint for all haunted house thrillers.
German horror stylist Paul Leni (Variety) brings his expressionist flourishes to this compendium of haunted clichés, creating one of the most stylish horror movie spoofs ever, a delightful mix of the gothic and the goofy. A greedy bunch of gargoyle-looking relatives (and a pair of young innocents) gather for the reading of a rich uncle's will, which demands that they spend the night in the creepy old mansion. Leni puts them through a fun house of frights: As if secret panels, clutching hands, and a stopped clock that mysteriously comes to life weren't enough, an escaped lunatic from a nearby asylum who rends his victims with catlike claws may have infiltrated the house. Silent movie sweetheart Laura La Plante is the canary of the title, a lovely would-be heiress who becomes the target of plotting relatives, but it's the rogues gallery of suspects that adds the color and comic relief. Leni kicks the film off with a delirious scene of an infirm old man surrounded by gigantic bottles of medicine and menaced by a snarling, spitting. gargantuan cat. The rest of the film is played in lower key, for laughs as much as chills, but it never loses its moody ambiance, highlighted by elegant camerawork and looming shadows. This classic has been remade three times, most famously by Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in 1939, but never as well. The hilarious Harold Lloyd short Haunted Spooks has been included as a DVD bonus. --Sean Axmaker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This movie is quite similar in so many aspects and details to the shorter (53 min.) silent "Midnight Faces" from the previous (1926) year, that much of this review takes the two films as virtually the same show, with slight differences, with this one being an improvement (at least in the aspect of suspenseful nature and length) over the other. It was complete with secret passages, a weird servant, rampant suspicions and insinuations, and cloak and dagger goings on, yet is something of a more serious attempt to create a suspenseful mystery than "Midnight Faces". This time the motive is plain, but the guilty party was, in my mind anyway, impossible to spot...maybe a second look would make it clearer.Read more ›
Even though the story is formula, this is an excellent presentation of who is included in the will and the old man dies. There a few different variances in this presentation. First the will is not to be opened till 20 years after the old man's death. And someone has tampered with the envelope the names the successor is a person named in the will is also proven to be crazy.
So the inheritor the "will" will now become the new canary being watched by all the other cats in the family. We watch as one by one it looks like they will be dispatched starting with... oh no you don't, watch the movie and find out. And of course this just enforces the suspicion that the inheritor is crazy.
Of course as usual it's always the last person you suspect, it's in an old dark house, secret passages and spooky looking eyes and hairy hands and suspects running from room to room.
Laura La Plante plays the innocent but extremely cute looking niece. Martha Mattox places sinister looking caretaker that watched over the house for 20 years (and the safe with the will). Tully Marshall plays a crusty old lawyer who gets to read the will. Creighton Hale gets to play the comic relief the thoughtful cousin and maybe a bit more.
For those of you expecting a talkie you're going to be disappointed. For the rest of us you can actually see their mouths worked and they actually are saying what is being printed. The fun part of the movie is when the characters express themselves in explicative the written cards are expressed in metacharacters (probably helps get around those ~!@#$%^ scenarios.) There is a good sound score in the background.Read more ›
This is not a movie for everyone. People who need special effects that leave nothing to the imagination, sound systems that capture every bullet casing hitting the floor or editing to hold those with short attention spans should not buy this movie. Well, they should, but they won't and they wouldn't enjoy it if they did.
For those who grew up watching Chiller Theater on Friday nights, this is a great movie to turn the lights down, prop the popcorn bowl on the knee, crack open a cold frosty and sit back for a pleasant evening.
The Cat and the Canary is just plain fun to watch. The hero doodling as the lawyer drones on is worth the price of the DVD alone. It's also amazing to see how silent actors and actresses can convey so much with a raised brow or a dimpled smile than many of today's Hollywood stars can with reams of scripts to read.
The Harold Lloyd short also is another pleasant haunted house comedy that develops at a leisurely pace like a stroll through a park that builds into a madcap dash.
"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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
If you enjoy old movies, don't miss this one! Beautiful production, great acting. Watching it was time well spent. Run, don't walk!Published on July 10 2013 by Dorothee Harmon
This silent film may rank high among those that are written about far more often than anybody ever sees them. Read morePublished on Nov. 14 2001 by Robert M. Fells
This fascinating and suspenseful tale of melancholy blends top notch camera work with quintessential serendipity. Read morePublished on Sept. 29 2000 by talkytina
DVD releases of old silent films have tended to enjoy mixed fortunes - certain releases of 'Metropolis' and 'The Lodger' have received shockingly bad treatment. Read morePublished on July 16 2000 by Jesmat
I first saw this as a child and have never forgotten the thrill and fright. By todays standards it is probably a little hokey but it was fun to again see after so many years and... Read morePublished on Dec 3 1999 by Fred S. Ball
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