THE CAT AND THE CANARY
This film version of The Cat and the Canary was directed by Paul Leni. Leni started in the classic era of German silent cinema, having directed the historical portmanteau Waxworks (1924). In the late 1920s, Paul Leni was one of a host of German expatriates who fled to Hollywood and found employ there. To The Cat and the Canary, Paul Leni brings a full arsenal of visual tricks honed by German silent cinema. Lenis style is something that lifts The Cat and the Canary up and away from being merely a filmed stage play and gives it an amazing visual dynamism. There is a stunning opening shot that dissolves from the spires of the mansion to the maddened Cyrus West surrounded by giant medicine bottles, with West seemingly trapped in their midst and surrounded by giant cats. Leni is a dazzling stylist when Tully Marshall tells Laura La Plante about West being caged like a canary by his greedy relatives, the very shot circles around the table as she is surrounded by the tall ornate chairs, appearing herself like a canary in a cage. When a title card mentions the word ghosts, the word comes vertically shimmering down the frame. Everyone remembers the brilliant editing juxtapositions such as the cutaway into the interior of the clock to observe the cogs winding up to meet midnight. Even though The Cat and the Canary has dated in other areas, Paul Lenis shock effects still contain considerable effect today. He does a great job with the cliche images of the Old Dark House genre of secret doors opening behind people and clawed hands reaching out to snatch necklaces from sleeping necks. The revelation of The Cat itself with one giant eye and two huge clawed teeth only half-seen under a slouch hat is extremely creepy.
The scares are somewhat diluted by the emphasis on the comedy, which gets more screen time than the horror element does. This is often dated humour a long scene with Creighton Hale hiding under Flora Finch and Gertrude Astors bed could easily have been cut. Nevertheless, some of this is also amusing. Flora Finchs autocratic and domineering performance is good and Martha Mattox is amusing as the humourless maid. There is also a wonderfully sinister performance from Lucien Littlefield as a psychiatrist who seems even more disturbed than any of his patients.
Director Paul Leni went onto make the Charlie Chan film The Chinese Parrot (1927), the lavish historical horror The Man Who Laughs (1928) about a man with a smile surgically cut into his face, and then returned to the Old Dark House thriller genre with The Last Warning (1929). In 1929, Leni died of blood poisoning and the world was deprived of someone who could have been a major directorial talent. Certainly, in the handful of films he made, Leni demonstrated exceptional style.
The other versions of The Cat and the Canary are: the apparently lost The Cat Creeps (1930), a sound remake directed by John Willard, the author of the original play; a Spanish language version shot at the same time as that; The Cat and the Canary (1939), the popular comedic version starring Bob Hope that is widely regarded as a classic; an adaptation made for Swedish television in 1961; and the all-star colour remake The Cat and the Canary (1978) from director Radley Metzger. The Cat and the Canary is parodied in Dark and Stormy Night (2009).
Full film available online here:-