The Cat and the Canary – 1939
A young Bob Hope (36 years old) and a young Paulette Goddard (29 years old) star in The Cat and the Canary, one of the prime 20th century "spook house" stories that came out of theatre, then into silent films, and finally the "talkie" era with three versions, the last one in 1979.
This 1939 version is the first time that Hope played his "brave coward" character in a film and it isn't as polished as later renditions, but this youthful version combined with Goddard and balanced against the rest of the cast is enjoyable and warm in a way that Hope's later solo films sometimes would not be, particularly later in his film career. Goddard appears to be simply enjoying the proceedings in The Cat and the Canary (though her character ends up being the main "canary" under threat as the tale unfolds) and in general she is featured like the star of the show, which she certainly is, with director Elliot Nugent taking time to make sure a number of her scenes are carefully lit to present her beauty or while trading cracks or reactions with Hope (or the rest of the cast). Nugent makes sure we get to see her laugh at any number of the on screen gags and jokes and its infectious as if she is also part of the audience listening to Hope's barrage of one-liners.
This 1939 The Cat and the Canary isn't a straight-up comedy but a hybrid tale with a gloomy, Gothic setting where a group of relatives have assembled to hear the reading of a will at an Isolated mansion on an island in the Bayou country of Louisiana. The surroundings are filled with mossy-trees, swamps, alligators, and guards from a nearby mental asylum because they are searching for an escaped prisoner called "the Cat," and the menace of this unseen assailant builds throughout the story as people go missing and bodies are found in surprising places. Director Nugent builds up the mood of a horror film at times in this film, and the creeper, barely seen (until near the end) seems like a homicidal villain prototype for any number of later mad killers, for example the famous Norman Bates of Psycho.
But, we're not watching a "slasher" film here, though some of Hope's one-liners are cutting (asked if he believes dead people can come back to life, his character answers "you mean, like the Republicans?")* Goddard and Hope are an excellent comedy duo and the success of this film led to two more team-ups: The Ghost Breakers and Nothing But The Truth.
The Cat and the Canary was originally released November 10, 1939
* If that line seems funny, listen for a line about the Democrats in The Ghost Breakers, also with Goddard.
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- Harvey – 1950
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Original Page April 19, 2022