Movie Review: The Cat and The Canary (1927) – Eureka Blu-ray

May 18, 2024

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

As per his dying wish, twenty years after rich eccentric geezer Cyrus West kicks the bucket, his relatives gather on a dark and stormy night for the reading of his will at his former arcane abode; a mansion that looks like German Expressionism mixed with Edgar Allan Poe aesthetics.

Anyhow, this groovy gaggle of weirdos eventually discovers that Cyrus’ fortune is to be left to his niece Annabelle (prolific silent film actress Laura La Plante)… on the condition she be judged sane (something Cyrus himself would never be able to achieve) by the macabre medicine-man Doctor Ira Lazar (Lucien Littlefield).

If she fails the exam, the riches will be given to the second choice family member who will be revealed in a separate sealed will… I mean for fuck’s sake dude, couldn’t you have just split that shit six ways among everyone and call it a day?!

As if Annabelle isn’t under enough pressure from the threat of her remaining family who will no doubt try and drive her out of her mind (and money)… it is soon revealed that there is a madman loose in the area, (the eponymous Cat among the canaries) so yeah, looks like it’s like the Kobayashi Maru of choices here folks; deal with your unhinged family or fall victim to a psycho killer (Qu’est-ce que c’est)?

Fortunately (?) for our heroine she has an ally in nerdy nephew Paul (Creighton Hale), who vows to be her protector… which is better than (or maybe slightly above equivalent to) nothing… will their combined powers be enough to secure Annabelle her inheritance? Logic would dictate “No”, but who the hell knows?

The technique and style utilized for this silent film by Director Paul Leni (who the following year would direct the iconic The Man Who Laughs, who’s main character Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) was almost certainly the inspiration for DC Comic’s Joker) along with cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, editor Martin G. Cohn, and art director Charles D. Hall pull out all the stops to make this horror comedy a visual treat that is often downright surreal in it’s presentation.

As mentioned above, Leni brought plenty of expressionistic flourish to The Cat and the Canary, but multiple other illusions are performed including all manner of double exposures, forced perspective, miniature work and an effective use of slightly exaggerated sets that give the at-times light-hearted material a fever-dream aesthetic that makes the film a devious delight to behold!

The cast assembled here is incredibly game as well, with La Plante making for a charming heroine, Hale playing the meek “savior” to the hilt, and Littlefield creeping up the joint… but for me the real standout here is Martha Mattox as the hilariously misnamed Mammy Pleasant; the snarling, menacing, superstitious caretaker of the West mansion that manages to steal many of the scenes she appears in.

Special mention must be given to The Cat himself, a deranged mutant of a man seemingly a blend of the worst of feline and man that sports an unexpectedly (super fun) monstrous appearance… but what secrets does our antagonist possess?

Before I begin laying out what special features are to be found on this Blu-ray release from Eureka, I really must talk about the transfer utilized here. Working from a 4K restoration of the original negatives held by the Museum of Modern Art, this presentation boasts an incredible amount of crispness and detail that truly makes this one a breath-taker!

As for the bonus material, things kick off with a duo of audio commentaries featuring authors Stephen Jones & Kim Newman and film historians Kevin Lyons & Jonathan Rigby with the former being more conversational, and the later approaching things from a more scholarly perspective, though both are highly informative and listenable.

Following that we get a new video essay exploring both the stage play upon which The Cat and the Canary was based (as well as further adaptations of the same) and the “old, dark house” genre in general, a pair of interviews with film critics Pamela Hutchinson and Phuong Le where they discuss different elements of the film’s production, audio excerpts from the play, and a faux radio ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes featuring Paul Leni.

Funny, surreal, and just a tad spooky; The Cat and the Canary is a real treat for lovers of classic Universal horror flicks, and is a must see for it’s cinematic artistry!

 

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