A veteran of the vaudeville stage, Bob Hope was one of the greatest American entertainers of the 20th century. His brilliant comedic timing often enlivened many radio programs, TV shows, movies, awards ceremonies and benefit shows for our troops serving overseas. Coming in early in his Hollywood career, The Cat and the Canary gave him a plum showcase for his comedic talents. Previously released on DVD by Universal, Kino has given the movie its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4.5/5
Ten years after the death of reclusive millionaire Cyrus Norman, six of his surviving relatives – along with his lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) and mistress Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) – arrive at his mansion hidden in the Louisiana bayous for the reading of his will. It’s revealed that the estate will be left to Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), provided that she isn’t either murdered or driven insane within the next 30 days. Not long after, news breaks that a murder known as “The Cat” has escaped from an insane asylum and Crosby mysteriously disappears while trying to warn Joyce. Is the Cat stalking Joyce like a canary in a cage, or – as her former high school classmate Wally Campbell (Bob Hope) soon uncovers – is there more to the mysterious happenings deep in the bayou?
The third screen version of the John Willard play (previously filmed by Universal Pictures in 1927 and in 1930 under the title The Cat Creeps), The Cat and the Canary might just be the best film version of said play. Under the direction of Elliott Nugent, the elements of horror and comedy are held in near perfect balance, even though some of the comedy is played up a bit more due to the presence of Bob Hope, who was just starting to make a name for himself in feature length films. A huge plus is the atmosphere courtesy of longtime Paramount chief production designer Hans Dreier, legendary cinematographer Charles Lang and composer Ernst Toch, each of whom play off of their strengths to bring the (by this point) oft-filmed story to life with a new and exciting spin on the material. Best of all, Hope and Paulette Goddard play off of each other brilliantly (something that would be very apparent in the similarly themed The Ghost Breakers the year after this movie), giving the former one of his best female co-stars outside of Dorothy Lamour. With a famous comic entertainer starting to enter into his prime cinematically and great blend of suspense, chills and laughs, The Cat and the Canary is one of the best horror comedies of all time, one that hasn’t lost its luster over the last 80 plus years.
The aforementioned Hope and Goddard are the main draw here, but we would be remiss to not mention some of the equally wonderful supporting cast as well. John Beal (no relation to the film composer of the same name) has one of his best known film roles as the sullen Fred Blythe; Douglass Montgomery makes his final American film appearance a notable one as the handsome Charles Wilder, a rival with Fred for Joyce’s affections. Gale Sondergaard – the first winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Anthony Adverse (1936) and later a victim of the Hollywood blacklist – brings the eerie as the mysterious Creole housekeeper Miss Lu; horror genre staple George Zucco makes a brief but memorable impression as the ill fated Crosby. Elizabeth Patterson reprises her role from the now lost The Cat Creeps adaptation here as Aunt Susan; Nydia Westman is equally notable as the excitable Cicily. Rounding out the cast here are John Wray (Himmelstoss in Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front) as the insane asylum guard, George Regas and an uncredited Chief Thundercloud as Indian guides leading various members of the group through the bayou to the Norman mansion at the beginning of the film, perennial character actors Milton Kibbee and Charles Lane as – respectively – a newspaper photographer and reporter at the end of the movie, and William Abbey as The Cat, whose shadow looms large over much of the action.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio for this release. Film grain is both organic and faithfully represented; fine details, shadows and gray scale are also given a faithful representation as well. There’s minimal instances of problems like scratches, tears, or dirt present here, which means that this Blu-ray release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and is a noticeable improvement over previous DVD releases.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with the sound mix and Ernst Toch’s effective score both given faithful representations; little to no issues like distortion, crackling or hissing are present here. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and an improvement over previous DVD releases.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historian Lee Gambin – Newly recorded for this release, Gambin goes over the film’s production history, the cast and crew, as well as some background on the source material; it’s a bit disjointed, but not without value.
Theatrical Trailer (3:40)
An outstanding mix of comedy and horror, The Cat and the Canary is one of the best movies of Bob Hope’s career outside of the Road to… franchise and possibly one of the best horror comedies of all time. Kino has done it again with this release, which gives the film its best audio and visual presentation on home video as well as an informative commentary track as a supplement. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous DVD releases.
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