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Image Entertainment presents
The Cat and the Canary (Remastered) (1927)

"He's a maniac who thinks he's a cat and tears his victims like they were canaries."
- The Guard (George Siegmann)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 14, 2005

Stars: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall
Other Stars: Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmund Carew, Martha Mattox, George Siegmann, Lucien Littlefield
Director: Paul Leni

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (racial and ethnic humor in bonus short)
Run Time: 01h:24m:05s
Release Date: February 01, 2005
UPC: 014381247626
Genre: mystery


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-A-B+ C+

DVD Review

The Cat and the Canary, although not frequently played onstage or as a film any more, has nonetheless made itself part of the popular consciousness both through its title phrase and through starting the genre of Old Dark House thrill-comedies. Even in 1927 the story, from John Willard's long-running play, was rather creaky. But it was highly popular nonetheless, and this film adaptation really is seen at its best in this newly-remastered version from Film Preservation Associates.

Rich old Cyrus West, considered mad by his relations, leaves a peculiar Will that is not to be opened until 20 years after his death. Along with that Will there's an envelope containing his wishes if the Will cannot be fulfilled. When that day comes, the West family meets at Cyrus' dilapidated castle, where they are to hear the news from attorney Crosby (Tully Marshall). As it turns out, young Annabelle West (Laura La Plante) is to be the heir, provided she can satisfy a doctor (Lucien Littlefield) that she is not mad, after spending a night in the castle. But her sanity is very much called into question when news comes of an escaped lunatic who may be in the house, and the possibility that one or more of the family may be trying to drive her mad or kill her outright.

Before long, there's an entertaining concoction of sliding panels, secret doors, dead bodies, hidden passages and shadowy figures threatening the heroine. Most striking of these is the Cat himself, with impossibly long clawed fingers (reminiscent of Count Orlok in Nosferatu). The Germanic influence is hardly surprising, since this was the first Hollywood film of director Paul Leni, who had made such horror and suspense classics as Waxworks. Leni adds quite a few touches to make this a memorable visual experience, starting with the opening titles, revealed as a mysterious hand wipes away a coating of dust, perfectly evoking the mood of decay. The artwork of the castle itself is the clearest example of German Expressionism in the film, with its Caligari-like angles making it a disturbing presence. But he also uses light and shadow to an amazing degree; there's a particularly great shot of the hallway in the castle, punctured by shafts of light periodically through its darkness. He also uses double exposure and superimposition to suggest the thoughts of the characters and on occasion to evoke humor.

There's a bit much comic relief that isn't very funny here, most notably Creighton Hale's inept hero, Paul Jones. He's rather too overbroad to be funny and not quite broad enough to be flat out campy. More entertaining is the array of character actors who are involved, such as Flora Finch, veteran of a partnership with John Bunny a dozen years earlier, with a great hatchet face and a terrific flair. Martha Mattox, as the dour "Mammy Pleasant," makes for a most uninviting hostess at the castle and she's always an ominous presence. Siegmann is an imposing figure and carries his part well, and Littlefield's doctor does go way over the top into definite camp territory. Laura La Plante can hardly compete with this formidable grouping, but she holds her own well enough to make the viewer at least interested in her fate.

The plot itself really isn't much to be excited about. The character work, on the other hand, is frequently hugely enjoyable, and the best atmospheric are practically unparalleled in the silent cinema. As long as one doesn't try to take it too seriously, there's a lot to enjoy here.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is slightly windowboxed to prevent loss of picture to overscan. There's a huge improvement in detail and texture over the rather soft DVD originally released some years ago (most likely a port from the laserdisc). It looks absolutely great, short of the regular wear observable on the print. The cover art is identical to the old release, but the easiest way to tell them apart is the original is found only in a snapper case; the remaster is in an Amaray keepcase.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no


Audio Transfer Review: Two scores are included with the feature. A 1927 score by James Bradford is performed by Eric Beheim on synthesizers. This tends to borrow heavily from the classics in typical period style. There's also a new score by Franklin Stover, performed by the always-reliable Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. It has a more modern edge to it, but it fits the film and its atmosphere quite well. Both are recorded nicely, with good stereo separation and no significant noise, hiss or clipping. Obviously, the actual orchestra sounds better than the synthesizer, but either one is quite acceptable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Short film, Haunted Spooks
Extras Review: The bonus short is Harold Lloyd's Haunted Spooks. In this ubiquitous public-domain comedy (this is my fourth copy on DVD alone), Mildred Davis has inherited a Southern mansion on condition that she and her husband live in it for a year. Her uncle (Wallace Howe) schemes to prevent this, however, by making them and the servants think the house is haunted. Actually, this aspect is almost throwaway, getting only a couple minutes of play at the end. More important is the classic sequence where Harold attempts to kill himself in a variety of ways, failing miserably each time, until he learns that Mildred wants to marry him. The short is plagued with racial stereotyping and humor (though notably the black butler saves the day), but putting that aside it's a very good picture. It makes one a bit antsy for the forthcoming Harold Lloyd DVDs, supposedly arriving late this year.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

The archetypal old dark house mystery returns to DVD with a lovely wash, wax and shine thanks to a top-to-bottom remastering. It's definitely worth the upgrade for critical viewers.

 


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