The Cat and the Canary (1939) | Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard are a class act in the creaky comedy chiller
‘Don’t big empty houses scare you?’ ‘Not me, I used to be in vaudeville!’
A slick mix of wisecracking comedy and spooky thrills, the 1939 classic comedy chiller, The Cat and the Canary, turned Bob Hope into a Hollywood star and won Paulette Goddard a 10-year contract with Paramount.
One of the earliest ‘old dark house’ mysteries, first filmed as a silent in 1927 (watch t below), it was tailored to Hope’s characteristic style which he’d go onto hone in his buddy comedies with Bing Crosby, and gave Goddard the chance to shine as the spirited heroine. Together they play a radio actor and an heiress who turn up at a decrepit old mansion in a mist-shrouded Louisiana swamp for the reading of a will. Secret passages, a portrait with eyes that move, a valuable diamond necklace, and an escaped lunatic keep the couple and a cast of eccentric characters on their toes until the final act, in which Goddard’s spunky ‘canary’ is lured into an underground passage by the shadowy ‘Cat’.
Stylishly staged and filled with a suitably spooky atmosphere, it boasts wonderfully gloomy performances from George Zucco as a stiff lawyer and Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper. Following this film. Zucco and Sondergaard went on to play the villainous Moriarty and The Spider Woman in Universal’s big-screen Sherlock Holmes adventures opposite Basil Rathbone.
The success of the film led to Hope and Goddard re-teaming for The Ghost Breakers (1940), while John Willard’s classic story was later remade by erotic arthouse director Radley Metzer in 1979. The film was also the model for the Frankie Howerd comedy The House on Nightmare Park in 1970 (see my review here).
THE UK RELEASE
The Cat and the Canary is available on DVD from Fabulous Films in the UK, and includes as extras, a trailer and three galleries.
THE 1927 SILENT IN FULL