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The Cat and the Canary

1927

From IMDb: Rich old Cyrus West's relatives are waiting for him to die so they can inherit. But he stipulates that his will be read 20 years after his death. On the appointed day his expectant heirs arrive at his brooding mansion. The will is read and it turns out that Annabelle West, the only heir who shares his name, inherits, if she is deemed sane. If she isn't, the money and some diamonds go to someone else, whose name is in a sealed envelope. Before he can reveal the identity of Annabelle's successor, Mr. Crosby, the lawyer, disappears. This is the first in a series of mysterious events, some of which point to Annabelle in fact being unstable. Stars: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, and Gertrude Astor


The Cat and the Canary (1927) is an American silent film horror film adaptation of John Willard (playwright)'s 1922 black comedy play of the The Cat and the Canary (play). Directed by German Expressionism filmmaker Paul Leni, the film stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West, Forrest Stanley as Charles "Charlie" Wilder, and Creighton Hale as Paul Jones. The plot revolves around the death of Cyrus West, who is Annabelle, Charlie, and Paul's uncle, and the reading of his last will and testament 20 years later. Annabelle inherits her uncle's fortune, but when she and her family spend the night in his haunted mansion they are stalked by a mysterious figure. Meanwhile, a lunatic known as "the Cat" escapes from an asylum and hides in the mansion.
The film is part of a genre of List of comedy horror filmss inspired by 1920s Broadway theatre stage plays. Paul Leni's adaptation of Willard's play blended expressionism with humor, a style Leni was notable for and critics recognized as unique. Leni's style of directing made The Cat and the Canary influential in the "old dark house" genre of films popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. The film was one of Universal Pictures's early horror productions and is considered "the cornerstone of Universal horror." The play has been filmed five other times, with the The Cat and the Canary (1939 film) in 1939 starring comedic actor Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.

Plot

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In a decaying mansion overlooking the Hudson River, millionaire Cyrus West approaches death. His greedy family descends upon him like "cats around a canary", causing him to become Insanity. West orders that his Will (law) remain locked in a safe and go unread until the 20th anniversary of his death. As the appointed time arrives, West's lawyer, Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall), discovers that a second will mysteriously appeared in the safe. The second will may only be opened if the terms of the first will are not fulfilled. The caretaker of the West mansion, Mammy Pleasant (Martha Mattox), blames the manifestation of the second will on the ghost of Cyrus West, a notion that the astonished Crosby quickly rejects.
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As midnight approaches, West's relatives arrive at the mansion: nephews Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), Charles "Charlie" Wilder, Paul Jones, his sister Susan Sillsby (Flora Finch) and her daughter Cecily Young (Gertrude Astor), and niece Annabelle West. Cyrus West's fortune is bequeathed to the most distant relative bearing the name West: Annabelle. The will, however, stipulates that to inherit the fortune, she must be judged sane by a doctor, Ira Lazar (Lucien Littlefield). If she is deemed insane, the fortune is passed to the person named in the second will. The fortune includes the West diamonds which her uncle hid years ago. Annabelle realizes that she is now like her uncle, "in a cage surrounded by cats."
While the family prepares for dinner, a guard (George Siegmann) barges in and announces that an escaped lunatic called the Cat is either in the house or on the grounds. The guard tells Cecily, "He's a maniac who thinks he's a cat, and tears his victims like they were canaries!" Meanwhile, Crosby suspects someone in the family might try to harm Annabelle and decides to inform her of her successor. Before he speaks the person's name, a hairy hand with long nails emerges from a secret passage in a bookshelf and pulls him in, terrifying Annabelle. When she explains what happened to Crosby, the family immediately concludes that she is insane.
While Annabelle sleeps, the same mysterious hand emerges from the wall behind her bed and snatches the diamonds from her neck. Once again, her sanity is questioned, but as Harry and Annabelle search the room, they discover a hidden passage in the wall and in it the corpse of Roger Crosby. Mammy Pleasant leaves to call the police, while Harry searches for the guard; Susan runs away in Hysterias and hitches a ride with a milkman (Joe Murphy (actor)). Paul and Annabelle return to her room to search for the missing envelope, and discover that Crosby's body is missing. Paul vanishes as the secret passage closes behind him. Wandering in the hidden passages, Paul is attacked by the Cat and left for dead. He regains consciousness in time to rescue Annabelle. The police arrive and arrest the Cat, who is Charlie Wilder in disguise; the guard is his accomplice. Wilder is the person named in the second will; he hoped to drive Annabelle insane so that he could receive the inheritance.

Production

The Cat and the Canary is the product of early 20th century German Expressionism#In other media. According to art historian Joan Weinstein, expressionism is a loosely defined term that includes the art styles of Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, cubism, Futurism (art), and Abstract art. The key element that connects these styles is the concern for the expression of inner feelings over verisimilitude to nature.

Casting

The Cat and the Canary features veteran silent film stars Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, and Forrest Stanley. La Plante played roles in more than 50 films before starring in The Cat and the Canary.< name="La Plante IMDb">; last accessed January 4, 2007.</> According to film historian Gary Don Rhodes, her part in The Cat and the Canary was typical for women in horror and mystery films: "The female in the horror film ... becomes the hunted, the quarry. She has little to do, and so the question becomes 'What will be done with her?'" Rhodes adds, "The heroines are young and beautiful, but represent more a prize to be possessed&mdash;whether 'stolen' by a villain or 'owned' by a young hero at the film's conclusion."</>
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Universal chose Irish people actor Creighton Hale to play hero Paul Jones, Annabelle's cousin. Hale had appeared in 64 silent films before The Cat and the Canary, notably the 1914 Serial (film) The Exploits of Elaine and D. W. Griffith's Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921).

Further reading

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  • Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN 0-306-80876-5.
  • Hogan, David. Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997. ISBN 0-7864-0474-4.
  • MacCaffrey, Donald W., and Christopher P. Jacobs. Guide to the Silent Years of American Cinema. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. ISBN 0-313-30345-2.
  • S. S. Prawer Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror. New York: Da Capo Press, 1989. ISBN 0-306-80347-X.
  • Worland, Rick. The Horror Film: A Brief Introduction. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1-4051-3902-1.
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Category:1927 films
Category:1920s horror films
Category:American silent feature films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:American comedy horror films
Category:German Expressionist films
Category:Films based on plays
Category:Films directed by Paul Leni
Category:Haunted house films
Category:1920s mystery films
Category:New York in fiction
Category:Universal Pictures films
Category:Universal Monsters film series
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