Cat and the Canary (9/9/27)

Cat and the Canary (1927) Paul Leni’s grandaddy of all horror comedies. Well to my eyes, it’s a suspense thriller with a little horror and a little comedy and I think the further we get away from that era, the much less of either it contains. Your pretty yet naive, soon-to-be-heiress, soon-to-be-stereotype, is locked into an ‘old dark house’ with naught but suspicious individuals and a some comic relief, wackiness ensues. [Seriously, can you LEGALLY delay a will reading for 20 years?] The twisty plot point and the sit-com familiarity of the comedy is what kept this play and and its copycats, running in the theaters for years. Paul Leni’s awesome adaptation of German production design for American sensibilities is what keeps this version watchable after 90 years. With apologies to Bob Hope, this is the superior incarnation. Leni’s death was tragic on many levels, he influenced a lot of people with just a few films.

Rewatching Cat and the Canary #1, it seems filled to the rafters with every trope and stereotype, perhaps the FIRST cinematic combination of these useful short cuts. If I were in the audience in 1927 I would have been awestruck at the visuals. The 1st time I saw a crappy copy, I immediately found the best copy I could find so I could appreciate everything Leni was putting on the screen. Usually visual effects to punctuate the story and heighten tension ‘way back then’ in my mind helped me SEE silent film in an entirely new light.

What doesn’t work for me, in this film or any of the thousand to come, is the heroine being patronized and dismissed for being a ‘silly girl’ when she reports spooky doings and threats up on her life. What is UP with that? How was THAT funny? To ME the biggest threat upon her person is her ‘advisors’ trying to convince her she is imagining everything, that was worse than any super-villain with a creepy makeup effect. But that must have had some mass appeal, it never gets old…I think Hollywood still trots that out from time to time.

On the whole this is a fun film to revisit from time to time, I ALWAYS see something new that I had not seen before. But it’s not really scary, except if I were Laura Laplante. I’d be scared they would make me stay in that house with all those idiots for TWO nights, instead of one.

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