Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Cat and the Canary

This was famed silent German filmmaker Paul Leni’s first film after fleeing Germany to the U.S., closely followed by a good number of his contemporaries (the rise of the Nazi party pretty much permanently crippled the German film industry, though it turned out quite well for Hollywood), and it’s further proof that the Germans were far and away the best in the world at making great art out of the silent film medium.

This is not to say that the film is without flaws; it is, after all, pretty much fluff all the way through, and while Leni was much better at wielding the camera than any American directors were at the time, he still paled in comparison to his German contemporaries Lang and Murnau. Still, this is pretty much the definitive Spooky Old House film, upon which all others were based, and it gets a lot of mileage out of its premise and location. The plot, which should be more than slightly familiar to anyone reading this, concerns a family gathering at the old mansion of a dead relative for the reading of his will. He leaves his entire fortune to one relative, but throws in enough complications and addendums to the will that all the others have to do is drive her mad and the fortune will go to another of them. You can naturally see where this is going.

Like pretty much every horror movie made in Hollywood by then, it’s played for laughs as much as screams, and it all holds up pretty well. Some of the jokes are a bit creaky by today’s standards, but it still has enough charm and visual flair to entertain all the way through. Now I want to see the late 30s remake that helped launch Bob Hope’s career. It’s not often a movie is so big that it can be remade just a decade later.

Rating: ***

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