The Cat and the Canary (1939) – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Classic horror comedy debuts on Blu
cat and canary screenshot

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 Cat and the Canary (1939)
Released: 10 Nov 1939
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 72 min
Director: Elliott Nugent
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery
Writer(s): Walter DeLeon (screenplay), Lynn Starling (screenplay), John Willard (based on the stage play by)
Plot: When an eccentric family meets in their uncle's remote, decaying mansion on the tenth anniversary of his death for the reading of his will, murder and madness follow.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 12 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/15/2020
MSRP: $24.99

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.

Video: 4.5/5

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.

Audio: 5/5

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)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Ghost Breakers, Road to Singapore, Road to Zanzibar, Road to Morocco & Road to Utopia

Overall: 4/5

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.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Supporting Actor
Sep 7, 2013
Real Name
Neil Powell
Thanks for the review, i received mine a couple of days ago. Great film as everyone knows, one of Bob's best. Also stars the wonderful George Zucco and Gale Sondergaard. The three of them also star in the even better My Favorite Blonde. Where's the blu ray Kino?
It *should* be coming. I think they have three more Bob Hope films from their second deal with Universal, of which it is assumed that My Favorite Blonde is one of them. There was talk of them being released as a box set by the Insider at one point. I think it was stated that one of the three had a new transfer from within the last few years, and the other two would be getting new remasters for the upcoming Blu-ray release, which is probably what is holding it back as yet. So, just be patient. It should be worth the wait, I hope (and yes, pun intended)!


Supporting Actor
Apr 13, 2011
Watched these films for the very first time with these K L blus. Ready to see them again. Excellent fun, great transfers.
I am old enough to have seen the MCA package when it was bought by a major TV network in my country. School vacations meant Noon movies on that network and over to the other major then(both still going strong) for two Warner-First National films each weekday. We were spoilt all in front of a 17" TV, the most popular size then. Funnily enough, few depression era(1929-31) titles were shown. Same applied to the MGM catalogue too when that came our way. There is at least one Joe E Brown First National feature not on DVD today, Six Day Bike Rider. Some time ago George F stated that it needed a lot of restoration still but at least one other one with nitrate damage I asked about has since but it was a long wait but in that case there had been an NTSC VHS issued previously with all the damage on show.
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