Cat and the Canary, The (1939)

“That will is practically an invitation to commit murder.”

Cat and Canary 1939 Poster

Synopsis:
The heir (Paulette Goddard) to an eccentric millionaire’s fortune must remain sane and survive the night in his house or risk losing her inheritance to another relative named in a secret will.

Genres:

Review:
This adaptation of John Willard’s 1922 play is notable for providing Bob Hope his starring debut, and for offering Paulette Goddard a chance to show off her sadly under-utilized comedic chops. The film’s “let’s scare the heroine to death” storyline — while imitated ad nauseum by countless later “old dark house” horror flicks — remains solidly suspenseful; you’re guaranteed to be kept in the dark (literally) about the identity of the killer. Director Elliott Nugent and cinematographer Charles Lang do a fine job keeping the proceedings appropriately spooky and atmospheric, though with Hope on board, there’s naturally plenty of corny levity (“Let’s all drink scotch and make wry faces.”). Hope and Goddard’s cinematic chemistry together was so successful that they co-starred in a similar outing the following year — The Ghost Breakers (1940), also listed in Peary’s book.

NB: Paul Leni’s 1927 silent film is another notable screen adaptation of this classic play, and well worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paulette Goddard as Joyce
    Cat and Canary 1939 Goddard
  • Many genuinely creepy and/or scary moments
    Cat and Canary 1939 Creepy
  • Charles Lang’s atmospheric cinematography
    Cat and Canary 1939 Cinematography
  • Ernst Toch’s score

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links:

One Response to “Cat and the Canary, The (1939)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must and rather in agreement with the review.

    ~tho I will say it does get better as it goes; the second half benefits from some genuine suspense and the climax is rather nifty and particularly spooky.

    As Hope enters in the first half, one soon suspects that the film will exist to serve his vaudeville humor. But that doesn’t happen – at least, not exactly. In Hope’s later films (whether with Crosby or not), the stories are more or less excuses on which to hang the jokes. Here, it’s the opposite – the jokes tend to serve the plot; revealing a certain deference to the film’s origin as a play. ~and Hope is even somewhat charming when he holds back the shtick. Generally, ‘TCATC’ is still only mildly diverting stuff but, by the end – even though the performances aren’t wildly memorable – you’ll probably feel you’ve been entertained.

    Fans of Hitch’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ may sense something of a similarity between Teresa Wright in that film and Goddard in this one. …And a special nod to Gale Sondergaard for…well, for being Gale Sondergaard.*

    *Fun fact about Sondergaard: before Margaret Hamilton landed her signature role in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Sondergaard was under consideration and did tests for The Wicked Witch. When she realized that she would end up rather fierce-looking, she turned down the part. And the rest, as they say, is history. (see Wikipedia)

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