Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Paul Leni.
Starring Laura La Plante, Tully Marshall, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Gertrude Astor,
Flora Finch and Arthur Edmund Carewe.

USA 1927 86 mins Certificate: PG


Released by Eureka Entertainment on Blu-ray on 22nd April 2024.


John Willard’s play “The Cat and the Canary” premiered on Broadway in February 1922 and, even if you’ve never seen an “official” film adaptation, you can be sure that you’ve enjoyed many screen variations of its plot, twists and frights. Most famously filmed with Bob Hope in 1939, it’s the archetypal Old Dark House mystery-chiller, complete with suspicious, greedy, cowardly and panicky characters, secret sliding panels and an escaped lunatic on the prowl.


Paul Leni’s original 1927 film version is making its worldwide Blu-ray debut here and the Museum of Modern Art’s 4k digital restoration from the original negative is breathtakingly beautiful. The presentation would impress even if it wasn’t from a source almost a century old, and it is enriched further by Robert Israel’s score (showcased in DTS-HD MA 5.1 on Eureka’s disc), based on music sheets from the film’s original release. Additional sound effects add to the dark-and-stormy ambience. Most importantly, the whole thing is still simply great entertainment.


You know the drill: fortune-seeking relatives descend on the faded, Hudson River-overlooking mansion twenty years after millionaire Cyrus West breathed his last. Lawyer Tully Marshall reads the will at midnight as Leni sustains the tension via the Expressionist tools of his trade: distorted faces, imposing shadows, subjective camera menace and low angles. The cast is full of magnificent faces: Martha Mattox glowers and glides as the grim housekeeper who has stuck around for two decades: “I don’t need the living ones”. West’s niece Annabelle (Laura La Plante) becomes the sole heir, required to be judged sane by wonderfully sinister doctor Lucien Littlefield. West’s batty sister Susan (Flora Finch) reaches for the tea and smelling salts while geeky, buffoonish nephew Paul (Creighton Hale) becomes an unwitting under-the-bed voyeur in between bouts of slapstick.


Leni, who made this between the extraordinary portmanteau WAXWORKS (1924) and pivotal Joker-inspiration THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928), brings enormous eerie atmosphere and playful melodrama to the busy plot, from the hairy, clawed hand reaching for a sleeping character’s necklace to the frenetic, frankly bonkers unmasking finale. The escaped maniac – referred to as a cat that tears victims apart like canaries – is just one of the red herrings on display.


Eureka’s release has gorgeous new Graham Humphreys artwork, a booklet of new essays and a wealth of disc-based features. David Cairns and Fiona Watson debunk the notion that this was the first of its kind in “Mysteries Mean Dark Corners”, while an infectiously enthusiastic Pamela Hutchinson positions the picture in the context of both American horror and Leni’s career. Critic Phuong Le discusses the adaptation and the status of Universal Pictures at the time and there are extracts from Willard’s play along with audio of Leni endorsing Lucky Strike cigarettes (!). The most animated and trivia-filled contributions come from a beguiling pair of commentary tracks: old-hands Kim Newman & Stephen Jones and Jonathan Rigby & Kevin Lyons provide good-humoured, engaging insight into the film’s innovations, cast, production, reception and endless influence.


Steven West,




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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans