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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939)

Real laughs, real scares in this spiffy rendition of the moth-eaten Haunted House/ reading-of-the-will classic. Director Elliot Nugent moves things along quicker than Paul Leni did in his spooky atmospheric silent version of 1927, and it works just as well; especially with such an expert cast. Bob Hope, in early peak form, rarely found such a perfect balance between wisecracks, wooing & his signature cowardly bravado. He also looks unexpectedly handsome as needed (thank you lenser Charles Lang), a big help when partnering Paulette Goddard. She’s the winner from a motley group of relatives who’ve gathered at a creepy mansion (flickering lights, secret sliding panels, mysterious housekeeper), to see who inherits the family fortune ten years after her uncle died. The trick to the thing lies in a subsidiary will naming a runner-up heir . . . just in case. Yikes! Will Paulette make it thru the night? Will Bob man-up enough to protect her? Which of the handful of disappointed relatives is doing dirty? Maybe the real culprit is that escapee from a local lunatic asylum? Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a long, bumpy night. (Not really, gags & frights wrap up in a delightful 72 minutes.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: One of the aunties uses the old term ‘alienist’ for psychiatrist. Like in the Caleb Carr novel finally going into production. A surprising word to hear in 1939.

DOUBLE-BILL: Paul Leni’s 1927 version of CAT is out in a fine restoration on KINO (see below). Best viewed before watching this sound version. What we really need is a new DVD of Leni’s final film, his physically stunning, visually inventive THE LAST WARNING/’29. Recently restored (more like reborn) by Universal, it tells a similar tale, but sets it in a B’way theater where scrims, trap doors & cat walks add to the confusion.

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