Genre Pictures I

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The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 29, 2015

This film had me immediately comparing it to Paul Leni’s 1927 version. It’s a logical impulse, but it’s potentially quite unfair. Judge things on their own terms!

Leni, 1927, is a good and very entertaining example of form superseding content. It’s a stylistic marvel, which either distracts from or plain overpowers the modest, mechanical, reasonably scary/amusing theatrical source. The Cat and the Canary 1939 is not a stylistic marvel. It’s professional though, and a good job of work by all those involved. The sub-genre of the Old Dark House having just about run its course, this one emphasizes funny over scary, to good effect. If the plot has commenced to creak (excuse the pun), then the arrival of Bob Hope, just now establishing what would soon become a popular and lucrative comic persona, serves to freshen things up just enough. In other words, here’s a nice example of a modest, commercially responsible, craft-honourable production. We tend to look for milestones and masterpieces. That’s good, in a way, but we might also be setting ourselves up for unnecessary disappointments. These folks are making a living, and they’re doing it by making pictures that will give us some reasonable pleasure and entertainment. Again, modest. What’s wrong with that?