Ten years have passed since the death of millionaire Cyrus Norman, his attorney gathers his six remaining relatives in his old mansion in the swamps of Louisiana to read the will. The family maid appears and announces that the spirits have told her that one of them will die that night and Hendrick, the local prison guard warns them that "The Cat" a homicidal maniac has escaped and could appear at any minute. This sets up a night filled with murders, mysteries and intrigue.
Walk this way...
- The Cat and the Canary review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 3
This cheap and cheerful B-movie does exactly what it's supposed to and not a lot more. If you've seen any other Old Dark House movies (including "The Old Dark House"), you'll be on very familiar territory here, and you won't have too much trouble guessing whodunnit long before the cast do. Its main selling-point is the presence of Bob Hope, a comedian sufficiently restrained to star in films that aren't exactly comedies, such as this one, a thriller in which several people are killed (not a thing they usually found funny in 1939), yet still be funny. He achieves this by stepping into the stereotypical hero rôle, but playing him as distinctly unheroic. He's obviously a basically good man, but he's very far from perfect. His cowardice, which becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses, along with his jittery attempts to talk himself into being at least slightly brave, are both his comic trademarks and the main reason to watch the film.
A "hero" who tries to talk big to impress the girl he's fallen for, but seconds later admits he's terrified because he's smart enough to know when lying is completely futile, is a refreshing change from the square-jawed nonentities who almost always saved the day in this kind of movie (and often still do). There's a lovely moment when, without even letting the camera see his face, he physically conveys that, having given the only available gun to the woman he loves so that she can protect herself if the murderer shows up, and having previously established that he needed to be holding it to be truly brave, and suffered a crisis of confidence when he found out afterwards that it wasn't loaded, he then realizes he might need it himself, and he has to force himself not to take it back again. The fact that he doesn't makes him a hero. The fact that he wanted to makes him interesting. And the way he does it makes him funny.
Otherwise, the proceedings are extremely routine. It's a bad movie with a very good central performance. In particular, especially given its short running-time, it takes absurdly long for the characters to find out either that anyone has actually been killed, or that the crazed killer they know to be in the general area is actually in the house, so as far as they know, for most of the running-time they're not in immediate danger and they're literally jumping at shadows, or the activities of the inevitable black cat (not the person mentioned in the title - an actual cat). In its own unpretentious way, it's fun though. And there's mercifully little of the horrible ethnic stereotyping typical of that era - no hilariously cowardly and superstitious black servants, for example. Bob Hope was very much against that sort of thing, which is probably why, the one time a minor Native American character pops up and appears to fulfill these expectations, they're subverted in a way that gives him the punchline and the joke's on Bob.