“My relatives have watched my wealth as though they were cats — and I, a canary.”
Twenty years after his death, the relatives of eccentric millionaire Cyrus West gather in his house to hear the reading of his will. They soon learn that young Annabelle West (Laura LaPlante) will inherit the entire fortune — as long as she can prove herself sane in front of an appointed doctor; if not, the inheritance will go to a different heir, whose name is written on a second, secret will. Meanwhile, a lunatic from a local asylum is on the loose, and a mysterious figure with clawed hands creeps throughout West’s ominous castle, trying his or her best to make Annabelle appear insane.
Immediately after being recruited from Germany to work in Hollywood, Paul Leni directed this popular adaptation of John Willard’s 1922 stage play, and received high praise for his work (Mourdant Haunt of The New York Times proclaimed, “This is the first time that a mystery melodrama has been lifted into the realms of art”). Fortunately, TCATC — which has been remade several times, most notably in 1939 with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard — remains an enjoyable treat, with Leni’s Expressionistic touch adding a sense of visual artistry to the proceedings. Although the familiar set-up has become somewhat of a cliche over the years, Leni keeps us in suspense about the identity of the “cat”, and there’s a nice balance of both humor and chills along the way.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Laura LaPlante as the vulnerable heir to West’s fortune
- Flora Finch as “Aunt Susan”
- Martha Mattox as “Mammy Pleasant”, the castle’s dour caretaker
- Expressionistic cinematography
- Effective use of double exposure shots — particularly in the opening scenes
Yes. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.