Next up from 1939, we have the more Halloween appropriate film The Cat And The Canary starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.
Lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) comes out to the isolated mansion of the late Cyrus Norman. There, he is to read Cyrus’s will to his potential heirs, including Wally Campbell (Bob Hope), Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), Fred Blythe (John Beal), Charlie Wilder (Douglass Montgomery), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson) and Cicily (Nydia Westman). According to the will, Joyce is to inherit everything, unless she dies or goes insane in a short period of time (at which point everything would go to the second heir, whose name was being kept hidden in a second envelope). Since the mansion is rather isolated in the swamps, with no way for anybody to get away that night, they are all given rooms to spend the night in. Soon, some rather spooky things start happening, particularly around Joyce, including Crosby disappearing while he was trying to warn Joyce. While all the remaining men volunteer to help Joyce, Wally in particular helps her out. The two of them manage to find a valuable necklace that Cyrus had left for Joyce, but it ends up disappearing. Wally does his best to try and find out who is behind everything going on, as he cares for Joyce, but can he stop the other heir before Joyce is driven crazy with fear?
This is the third filmed version of the story, following a silent film from 1927, which shared the same name, and a talkie from 1930 called The Cat Creeps. As best as I can tell, the 1939 film is the movie that established Bob Hope as a major movie star, allowing him to really make use of the screen persona that he would become known for. Admittedly, I wouldn’t *quite* call it fully formed yet, considering the lack of quips around the lawyer named Crosby. Had this movie been made a few years later, I can’t help but think he would certainly have been using the opportunity to make fun of Bing Crosby. But, this was made in 1939, nearly a year before he would first work with Bing onscreen (not to mention the fact that Crosby was the character’s name in the previous versions as well, so it was hardly anything aimed at Bing himself).
Honestly, though, Bob Hope is the main reason that this film is considered a comedy. The rest of the cast otherwise seem to play it straight, as if it was otherwise a dark house type of movie. Gale Sondergaard plays the creepy house caretaker Miss Lu, generally in tune with the “spirits” that are haunting the place, and constantly watching everyone from the sidelines (and creeping you out in the process). In some respects, Bob Hope’s character almost seems to be an audience member that’s been dropped into the movie. Since his character is supposed to be an actor, he seems to have some idea of what’s going to happen (based on many plays and such that he had done), accurately predicting that Joyce would be the heir. Obviously, his so-called “knowledge” doesn’t keep him from being scared, or knowing everything that’s going to happen right from the start, but it does help. However you want to look at it, though, his comedy works, and this is a fun movie to watch any time of the year (but especially around Halloween)! Highly recommended!
This movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios either individually or as part of several different multi-film sets, and is one hour, fourteen minutes in length.
My Rating: 9/10