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The Cat and the Canary

USA 1939
produced by
Paramount
directed by Elliott Nugent
starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Gale Sondergaard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Elizabeth Patterson, George Zucco, Nydia Westman, John Wray, Chief Thundercloud
based on the play by John Willard

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Somewhere in the Louisiana bayous: Lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) is rowed to an estate in the middle of nowhere - actually very deep in the swamps - to read the will of an old eccentric who died 10 years ago & now has his will read to his relatives at midnight, forcing all of them to stay in the haunted mansion over night (typical procedure, wouldn't you say). But even while going there Crosby is warned by his Indian guide (Chief Thundercloud) of the dangers that await him - which is just as well, since soon after he has read the will, he is pulled off into a secret passageway, never to be seen again ... alive that is.

But who might the killer be ? The mysterious housekeeper Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard), who looked after the house all by herself for the last 10 years ? The old spinsters Cicily (Nydia Westman) & Susan (Elizabeth Patterson) ? Wisecracking actor Wally (Bob Hope) ? The sole heiress of the fortune, Joyce (Paulette Goddard) ? Fred (John Beal) or Charles (Douglass Montgomery), who want to get to the inheritance via Joyce ? Or is it the maniac escaped from the insane asylum down the road about whom guard Hendricks (John Wray) informs them ?

Or is all of it a plot to drive Joyce mad so that (according to the will) someone else will get the inheritance ? Most of those present at the insane tend to or want to believe she is going insane, anyways, but not Wally, who soon helps her find the real family treasure (a priceless necklace), finds a clue or 2 about who is behind the plot, & even finds Crosby - dead of course, falling out from behind a secret panel, as these stories go. In the end he even finds a whole maze of secret passageways, & he finds guard Hendricks, who it seems was in cahoots with the maniac he hunted to lay his hands on the necklace, but instead is met with the sharp end of a dagger.

The maniac manages to abduct Joyce, with Wally in hot pursuit, by now having found out that he is really Charles desperately trying to kill Joyce or drive her insane as then he would inherit the family fortune. In the end though, Joyce is saved by Miss Lu, who shoots Charles, avenging her master he did poison 10 years ago.

 

Even back in 1939, The Cat and the Canary had been filmed numerous times (it would be filmed again in 1978 by Radley Metzger, taking a break from filming erotica), and the originality of the source play from 1922 (for many the epitomy of the Old Dark House-thriller) had of course somewhat faded, with most of its key-elements - the reading of the will at midnight, the spooky mansion with secret panels & passageways, sinister housekeepers, escapees from nearby loony bins - by then being staple of the genre. To turn the story into a comedy seems to be the perfect solution, with (back then) up-&-coming Bob Hope as a perfect leading man.

But unfortunately precisely Hope's central performance in this movie is what makes it uneven, as he plays both the dashing hero & the comic relief - & while he is great as the wisecracking coward, the smart daredevil is totally against his type, especially when he has to play both characters at the same time ... logic dictates this cannot work. The presence of great character actors like Gale Sondergaard & George Zucco - soon one of the horror genre's mainstays - on the other hand helps greatly in creating an appropriate atmosphere.

Hope & Goddard would re-appear in a semi-follow-up, the superior Ghost Breakers the next year, in which Hope's character would be much better penned out.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD