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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.
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
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.
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
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
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.