“What happened?” “Sometimes they get into the machinery.”
Millionaire Cyrus Norman is dead. At the tenth anniversary of his death his relatives have gathered to read his will. There are six remaining potential heirs left. Cyrus’s attorney Mr. Crosby (George Zucco) has gathered together Wally Campbell (Bob Hope), Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson), Cicily (Nydia Westman), Fred Blythe (John Beal) and Charles Wilder (Douglass Montgomery). They have all gathered at Cyrus’ New Orleans mansion in the Louisiana Bayous.
Crosby has two envelopes. The first is the will. It states that the heir to the estate is Joyce. However, there is also a streak of insanity that runs through the family and should Joyce fall victim to it a second will has been prepared with an alternate heir. The second will is in the other envelope which will remain unopened unless something happens to Joyce. This puts Joyce in danger.
All of a sudden Cyrus’s housekeeper Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) falls into a trance and 7 gongs are heard. When Ms. Lu comes out of her trance she states that the spirits have told her that of the eight people in the house, only seven will be alive in the morning. One of them will die that night. To add to this Hendricks (John Wray), a prison guard, shows up from “Fair View” the insane asylum. He warns everyone that there is an escaped homicidal maniac on the loose. His fellow inmates refer to him as “The Cat”.
With no more boats coming to or going from the estate, everyone is stuck staying at the mansion overnight. What follows is a series of red herrings, suspects, clues, scary moments and a murder or two. There is also a necklace worth a fortune that is believed to be hidden somewhere either in the house or on the grounds.
Like with many “Old Dark House” mysteries, “The Cat and The Canary” started out as a play in 1922 by John Willard. It was then done as a silent movie in 1927. There were a few other reiterations including a Spanish version and another version called “The Cat Creeps” done in 1930. In 1939 it was remade again with Bob Hope. This gave the movie a more comedic tone than was in the previous versions. Whether you prefer the 1927 silent version or the 1939 remake is a matter of taste. This movie along with others of the same type spawned what is known as The Old Dark House genre. This particular movie was directed by Elliott Nugent.
As usual, Gale Sondergaard as Miss Lu is deliciously creepy. She is always my favorite spooky person. Nydia Westman as Cicily is as scatterbrained as ever. George Zucco makes a very suspicious attorney. And Bob Hope is of course being Bob Hope. Not part of the original story his character was added to the film to give him a platform for his comedy. His character appears like it was dropped in to the film rather than part of it.
Of course the movie is full of secret passages, flickering lights and portraits that watch you. I like Old Dark House mysteries. They may be predictable but that is part of the fun. And this movie is fun, whether or not you’re a Bob Hope fan.