The Cat and the Canary (1927) – Film Review

The Cat and the Canary

Director: Paul Leni
Cast: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley
Certificate: PG

By Sarah Morgan

If a story is worth telling once, it’s worth telling… maybe four times?

John Willard’s 1922 stage play The Cat And The Canary was adapted for the screen in 1939 (I reviewed its Blu-ray release last year), then again in 1961 and, most recently, in 1978. However, it first made it into cinemas as a silent film way back in 1927.

That version has now been dusted down, given a 4k restoration and is heading onto Blu-ray thanks to the nice people are distribution company Eureka!

The Cat and the Canary

Directed by German Expressionist master Paul Leni, in his Hollywood debut, the story begins as the family of long-dead millionaire Cyrus West gather at his crumbling mansion to hear the reading of his will. All are hoping to inherit his fortune, and most are left disappointed when the money goes to just one person – West’s niece Annabelle, provided she can prove she is legally sane.

“More uncomfortable”

Tensions begin to rise when the clan discover a crazed murderer known as The Cat has escaped from a nearby asylum and could be lurking in the grounds – and matters get more uncomfortable as a disappearance marks the first in a series of unsettling events to beset the relatives over the course of one terrifying night, during which Annabelle may struggle to hold onto her sanity.

The film is somewhat creaky – well, it is almost 100 years old – but its importance in the history of cinema is not in doubt; Leni’s film helped pave the way for the Universal cycle of horror films that began with Dracula just four years later. It was also at the forefront of the ‘old dark house’ genre.

The cast are now long forgotten, but in a way, that’s a good thing – there is no star here to distract us, or to telegraph who the heroes and villain may be, so those unfamiliar with the story are kept guessing to the very end.

The Cat and the Canary

“A wealth of special features”

As is usually the case with a Eureka! release, there’s a wealth of special features to enjoy, which are vital when it comes to revealing the film’s background and importance.

Among them are two new audio commentaries from experts including Jonathan Rigby and Kim Newman, as well as video essays by critics David Cairns and Fiona Watson, and Pamela Hutchinson.

Watch the film alongside two other Leni classics – The Man Who Laughs and Waxworks, which are already available from the same distributor.

Blu-ray Release Features:
  • Limited Edition O-card slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys (First print run of 2000 copies)
  • 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K digital restoration of the original negatives supplied by MoMA
  • DTS-HD MA 5.1 score by Robert Israel; compiled, synchronised and edited by Gillian B. Anderson, based on music cue sheets for the original 1927 release
  • Brand new audio commentary by authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
  • Brand new audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
  • "Mysteries Mean Dark Corners" – brand new video essay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson
  • Pamela Hutchinson on "The Cat and the Canary" – brand new interview with writer and film critic Pamela Hutchinson
  • Phuong Le on "The Cat and the Canary" – brand new interview with film critic Phuong Le
  • Extracts from John Willard’s original play "A Very Eccentric Man & Yeah, a Cat!"
  • "Lucky Strike" – Paul Leni endorses the product that supported him during filming "The Cat and the Canary"
  • PLUS: A collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Richard Combs, Craig Ian Mann, and Imogen Sara Smith
The Cat and the Canary is released on Blu-ray by Eureka

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