Sunday, January 13, 2013

Silent Sundays: The Cat and the Canary (1927)



“My relatives have watched my wealth as if they were cats, and I--- a canary---“

                        If you have been following my blog you may be asking yourself if I have blogged about The Cat and the Canary before. The answer is I did but that was the 1939 version with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. This is the 1927 silent version and it is just as silly and spooky as its predecessor.
            An old millionaire named Cyrus west feels he is being driven crazy by his greedy relatives who are after his wealth.  He compares them to “cats to a canary.” When Cyrus first writes his will he states that it is to be opened twenty years after his death. He then revised it that it was never to be opened if his terms were not followed.
            Twenty years later, the only person living in the house has been his faithful maid Miss. Plessant. Apparently there is also a ghost that has been roaming the house. We see a hand, a hand that looks one that would belong to a werewolf, open the safe and open one of the envelopes. The lawyer, Mr. Crosby, comes to the house to read the will to the relatives. He opens the safe and finds a live moth inside. Mr. Crosby is furious that someone has broken in it. He was the last one to open it twenty years ago. He and Miss. Plessant were the only ones who knew the combination.
            The guests begin to arrive. Charlie and Harry are the first to arrive. Mr. Crosby asks them to get along for the sake of their uncle since they have apparently been quarreling for quite some time. Cecily and Aunt Susan arrive at the house but their driver makes them walk up because he refuses to drive them to the door. He thinks there are ghosts in the house and wants nothing to do with them. Paul is driving up to the house when stops to let a cat pass by. He gets out of the car and hears his tire pop. The deflating tire sounds like a gun being fired. Paul gets scared and runs for the house. The others ask him what happened. Paul lies saying he felt a bullet wiz past his nose. Annabelle West is the last of the relative to arrive. Aunt Susan comments to Cecily that Annabelle looks exactly like Cyrus and bets she is crazy like the old man.
            All the relatives and Mr. Crosby sit at the table to read the will. Cyrus leave his money to his most distant relative and his namesake Annabelle West. Annabelle is then given an envelope that Mr. Crosby says she must look at herself. Aunt Susan thinks that the letter will reveal where Cyrus has stashed the West Diamonds. Mr. Crosby relays that the letter actually contains the name of someone else. Cyrus stipulated in his will that Annabelle must be declared sane before she can truly inherit his fortune. He did this because he was crazy himself. Mr. Crosby tells Annabelle that she is now in a cage trapped by cats like her uncle.
            A man knocks on the door. He is a guard from the local sanitarium warning the guests that a lunatic has escaped and that they all should not leave the house. He tells them the lunatic thinks he is a cat scratching canaries to death with his claws. After this warning Mr. Crosby takes Annabelle into the library. He tells her that the other heir has opened the letter and knows the conditions. Now she is in great harm. Before he can tell her the person’s name the same hand from the beginning of the film reaches out and grabs Mr. Crosby from a secret doorway behind the bookcase. When Annabelle turns around the lawyer is nowhere to be found. Now everyone thinks Annabelle is crazy. Aunt Susan comments that Annabelle probably knows where Mr. Crosby is and is not telling. When everyone goes upstairs for the night, Charlie and Harry search the house. They tell each other they are looking for the missing lawyer but they both know that is a lie.
            Cyrus wrote a note about how to find the West Diamonds. The note states that there is a button on the fireplace that if the person can take the time to find the button their search will be worthwhile. Annabelle goes to the fireplace mantle and presses and touches all the details of the ornamentation. She finds the button and a side panel next to the fireplace opens revealing a case. Annabelle opens the case and sees the diamonds are in a necklace. She puts the necklace on and goes to bed. While she is sleeping the mysterious hand reaches down from a panel in the wall and grabs the necklace. Now everyone thinks Annabelle is definitely crazy. Paul helps her to try to open the panel. Annabelle pushes one of the panels back. The panel opens a door besides her bed and out falls the body of Mr. Crosby.
            Aunt Susan becomes so frightened she runs out of the house to get the police. Paul in the mean time goes looking for the killer. Paul from the beginning has been fiercely loyal to Annabelle. He wants to catch the murderer so no one will think she is crazy. In his search with Annabelle by his side they come across the killer down in the cellar. Paul fights off the murderer and Annabelle runs back to her room. Unfortunately Paul was not able to completely overtake the murderer. The man sneaks his way back to Annabelle’s room. Luckily Paul comes back and fights the man again. The police come to the house. The murderer has lost his mask in the fight. He manages to run away from Paul but is caught by the police. The murderer is Harry and he hired a man to play the guard to dive Annabelle crazy.
            This version of The Cat and the Canary was very entertaining and much sillier and a bit spookier than the later version. As soon as Paul was in the house and started doing more you can see where the character of Wally Campbell played by Bob Hope derives from. The Cat and the Canary was originally a Broadway play. You can tell it was a stage play many of the scenes feel staged. The only issues I had with this film were the several plot holes in the characters of Charlie and Harry and the parts with Aunt Susan and Cecily. This silent version of The Cat and the Canary is currently available to view on Youtube.