Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

"The Cat and the Canary" is one of the last great classics of silent cinema.

A wealthy man, named Cyrus has died and his will is read aloud.  According to the will, the details will only be read on the 20th anniversary of his death.  

2o years later, a group of family members show up to the deceased's mansion.  The will states that everything goes to his most distant relative, Annabelle.  Annabelle will only be able to collect if she is proven sane by a named doctor.  Cyrus puts this clause in his will because his entire family thought him to be crazy.  He did not like his family.  He felt that the family (cats) were just waiting for him (canary) to die so they can get is fortune.  The will also states that if Annabelle is proven to be crazy, then a second person named in a separate envelope will get everything.

Cyrus' mansion has been rumored to be haunted and strange things are occurring.  A figure has been running around kidnapping and murdering people.  It is not known if this is a crazed lunatic from a nearby mental facility, the ghost of Cyrus, or a family member out to kill Annabelle.

The film is revolutionary for many reasons.  This film has everything that has become cliche in a haunted house movie.  Long corridors, spider webs, the creepy housekeeper, and secret passageways.  This was the first time these elements were used in film.  

The camerawork on this film is excellent.  I couldn't believe how good it was.  It has these strange fast zooms and it has incredible close ups.  There is one close up in particular of Annabelle's eye.  The shot is so full of detail.  It looks as if it were shot yesterday.

Another interested thing this film did was that it was creative with its dialogue cards.  Being a silent film, the viewer reads the dialogue.  It was very creative to see certain words animated.  For instance, when a character screams the word "Help!", the letters are animated to show that they are shivering.  It really adds to the feeling of the movie.

Another great moment is the opening credits.  Gloved hands wipe away spider webs to reveal the credit sequence.  This same effect was used later in "Son of Dracula".

"The Cat and the Canary" is a great horror film mixed with plenty of good comedy.  It influenced future classics such as "The Old Dark House" and "Bride of Frankenstein".  The film should be viewed not only to see the start of this type of horror film, but the amazing camera work used.  If you are interested in film history, this is a must see.

B+  I recommend it.

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