MOVIE REVIEW | The Cat and the Canary (1939)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “While the story not be the greatest, and the acting by everyone whose name isn’t Bob Hope is nothing special, the transfer of The Cat and the Canary is gorgeous.”

Cat 1
“You know, what this party needs is more drinks and more laughs.”

As far as joke delivery machines go, you can’t do much better anywhere in the in the history of cinema than Bob Hope.  He can drop quips, perform wordplay and pull of entendre better than almost anyone else.  And from the little snippets I’ve seen, he even made the monumental bore that is Oscars kind of interesting, hosting them a mammoth 19 times.  I love the bloke, so why haven’t I seen more of his work?  Today, I didn’t even know I was in for a Bob Hope movie, which we was why I got a great treat when I randomly decided to watch The Cat and the Canary.

One spooky night, a series of people make their way through a Louisiana swamp by rowboat.  They all arrive at the mansion of Cyrus Norman.  Now deceased, these people have been called for the reading of his will.  Present are Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), Fred Blythe (John Beal), Charles Wilder (Douglass Montgomery), Cecily (Nydia Westman), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson), and Wally Campbell (Hope).  Along with Cyrus’ widow, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard), everyone is suspicious of each other, as they try to figure out how to get their hands on the late man’s fortune.

The tension is ramped up a notch when they realise that the lack of boats means they are stuck in the house overnight, right before they find out that an insane murderer has escaped from a nearby asylum.  All this, plus secret passages, disappearing people and convoluted rules about how the estate’s beneficiary will be selected, and the stage is set from some real mad cappery.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea how accurate that synopsis is, because I found the story of The Cat and the Canary convoluted, over stuffed and generally just a mess.  Twists and turns are piled onto broad, farce-like misunderstandings, with logic often ignored for the sake of an easy joke.  The good news is, even easy jokes are funny when delivered by Hope.
Cat 2
While the story may not be the greatest, and the acting by everyone whose name isn’t Bob Hope is nothing special, the transfer of The Cat and the Canary is gorgeous.  Movies from the 30s rarely look this good.  Sure, prestige jobs like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz get immaculate restorations every few years to celebrate a major anniversary, or to fit whatever new video format is all the rage.  But I’ve never even heard of The Cat and the Canary, I assume it’s in no way considered a classic.  So I have no idea how it can to be maintained or restored to look so crisp and clear, but I’m glad it happened.  Because while Bob Hope really is the only thing this movie as going for it as a piece of entertainment, seeing a film this old look this good is like seeing a pristine piece of history.

The Cat and the Canary
Directed By – Elliott Nugent
Written By – Walter DeLeon, Lynn Starling

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Cat and the Canary?
The New York Times
Twenty Four Frames

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