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THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927)

Written By:

Martin Unsworth
cat and the canary 1927

The silent classic from director Paul Leni (The Last Warning) still impresses – even more so in this Eureka! Blu-ray.

The story has been told numerous times since this first adaptation of the stage play. A greedy group of relatives descend on an old mansion for a will reading on the 20th anniversary of the passing of ‘crazy’ Cyrus West. There’s a secondary clause when the heir is announced: should they be deemed mentally unfit before the morning, another inheritor will benefit. Unfortunately, the second benefactor has found out they are in for a fortune, and the initial recipient could be in mortal danger. Add the fact that there’s a deadly escaped criminal who thinks they’re a cat loose, and you can guarantee an eventful night.

Stunningly filmed and full of striking expressionist and surreal flourishes, Leni’s masterpiece is often overshadowed by the more familiar 1939 Bob Hope version of the story due to it being a silent movie. However, it’s one of the movies in which many of the ‘old dark house’ tropes were born, so it’s doubly important. It also stands up amazingly well almost 100 years since it was made. The comic relief in this version is provided by Harold Lloyd-alike Creighton Hale, and fortunately, his presence doesn’t take away from the creepiness of the visuals. Even the intertitles possess an eerie quality, emphasising the action on-screen. Despite the familiarity of the story, this version still surprises and has some genuinely creepy moments. It also shows what a visionary Leni was and how tragic it was that he died so young, only three years after this unmissable classic.

Eureka’s release has several interesting extras. Two commentaries add context to the feature with an entertaining zest. A fascinating video essay delves into the history of old dark house stories on stage and screen while a pair of critics give insights to the picture. Sure, there is some repeated information when you watch each extra back-to-back, but they are enjoyable and informative enough to be worthwhile.

stars

THE CAT AND THE CANARY is available on Blu-ray from April 22nd.

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