The Cat and the Canary (September 9, 1927)
Released on September 9, 1927: Relatives gathered at a haunted mansion to hear the reading of the owner's last will face death and danger before daybreak.
Directed by Paul Leni
Written by John Willard, Robert F. Hill, Alfred A. Cohn and Walter Anthony.
The Actors: Laura La Plante (Annabelle West), Creighton Hale (Paul Jones), Forrest Stanley (Charles Wilder), Tully Marshall (Roger Crosby), Gertrude Astor (Cecily), Flora Finch (Susan), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Harry Blythe), Martha Mattox (Mammy Pleasant), George Siegmann (the guard), Lucien Littlefield (Ira Lazar), Hal Craig (policeman), Billy Engle (taxi driver), Joe Murphy (the milkman).
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I love a whodunit / what-the-hell-is-going-on-here mystery, but I always figured that to do it right it couldn't be a silent movie. How much tension can you build withhout that scary music in the background? After being glued to the screen for the past hour and a half, let me tell you . . . you will not find many mystery thrillers that can keep you in suspense and fear as well as this amazing story. Here's the setup: Old man Cyrus West died twenty years ago today, and per his instructions his will is not to be read to his relatives until this night at midnight. The lawyer arrives at the old haunted mansion first, and is let in by the scary looking lady that has tended the house for the past twenty years. She is my first suspect for no-good, but soon I have many more. We then meet the normal quirky cast of relatives that we would expect in a mystery thriller, and preparations are ready to read the will. All of the old man's money will go to young Annabelle West, played by female heart-throb Laura La Plante. But wait, there is a catch - A doctor must find that she is not insane or else all of the wealth will go to an unnamed person in another sealed envelope. Ahhh . . . now everyone else in the room is secretly plotting to make the young heiress out to be insane - but wait - there are more curves in this plot than on the lovely Laura La Plante! A big bruising ominous fellow enters with a straight jacket and declares that he has followed an escaped looney-bin patient to this house, and the crazy person must be inside the house or on the grounds. Now remember, all of these relatives are gathered, and most of them haven't seen each other for many years, so one of them may be the crazy man pretending to be a relative. Hmmmm . . . that should be enough to keep us on the edge of our seats, but there is a heart-throbbing extra development in this truly frightening tale. A couple of times at very strategic points in the story we discover hidden panels and passageways in the mansion, and a long, creepy hand that comes out to kill.
Who is attached to the mysterious hand that comes out of nowhere to wreak havoc? Is one of the relatives really a deranged madman escaped from a lunatic asylum? Are any of the relatives trying to kill the young heiress or at least try to convince her that she is insane? Is the awful looking housekeeper as frightening as the cameras and lights make her out to be? Will the young heiress survive the night? Don't pass this story up just because it is a silent movie - the plot, lighting and camera angles are better in this thriller than in many later mysteries. If you are like me you will catch yourself yelling warnings to the young heiress as she faces the night alone in a haunted mansion with a handful of weird relatives, some ghosts, a deranged madman, and no one to save her but you . . . if you can yell loud enough to warn her. And one more thing . . . this is one of the rare movies that I absolutely could not figure out the ending even one second before it was laid out for us . . . do you think that you might do any better? If you do, let me know and I will certainly congratulate you.
Arthur Edmund Carewe and George Siegmann
Arthur Edmund Carewe in The Cat and the Canary
Arthur Edmund Carewe and Flora Finch
Billy Engle, the taxi drive who won't go near the mansion driveway
Creighton Hale and Laura La Plante meet at the haunted mansion just before midnight
Creighton Hale is terrified in The Cat and the Canary
Creighton Hale is hiding under a bed
Flora Finch as Aunt Susan in The Cat and the Canary
Forrest Stanley and Flora Finch
Forrest Stanley as Charles Wilder in The Cat and the Canary
George Siegmann is the guard from the insane asylum
Gertrude Astor and Flora Finch
Gertrude Astor and Flora Finch
Hal Craig as the policeman in The Cat and the Canary
Joe Murphy is the milk man in The Cat and the Canary
Laura La Plante in 1927
Laura La Plante arrives at the haunted mansion to hear the reading of the will
Laura La Plante
Lucien Littlefield as the doctor
Lucien Littlefield examines Laura La Plante
Martha Mattox as Mammy Pleasant
Martha Mattox gives Laura La Plante a secret envelope
The Cyrus West haunted mansion
Tully Marshall and Creighton Hale
Tully Marshall and Martha Mattox
Tully Marshall as lawyer Roger Crosby