Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 10/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The close of 2007 is an exciting time for silent film enthusiasts. A number of restorations of big name silent titles are still scheduled for release by year's end including BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, NOSFERATU, THE IRON HORSE, and THE JAZZ SINGER (which despite its reputation is more silent than talkie). So far PANDORA'S BOX, TRUE HEART SUSIE, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and THE CAT AND THE CANARY have appeared with the last named being the winner in the restoration sweepstakes so far.
Considering previous versions of the film, this is the best looking one I've seen since METROPOLIS in 2003. The picture quality is outstanding (thanks to 35mm nitrate source materials), the film is complete (even the original Universal biplane opening is there), and the new score by Neil Brand fits the visuals perfectly (something which has not been the case in a few recent releases). Britain's Photoplay Productions remains the premiere restoration outfit in the business today not only because of the knowledge of people like co-founder Kevin Brownlow and the cooperation between various archive sources but also because of the additional funds they seem to have available to do the job right. We'll see how the others look once they're released but they'll be hard pressed to beat this one.
For those who have never seen it, THE CAT AND THE CANARY is the prototype old dark house film mixing murder, mirth, and mayhem with outstanding visuals and wonderful performances from all concerned. This new version allows you to see the film as audiences in 1927 must have seen it and gives you the opportunity of experiencing a silent film first hand. The print isn't perfect but it's darn close and as I mentioned earlier Neil Brand's score is an absolute delight.
If you've never seen a silent film before then this is a good place to start. If you're an old hand like me then you'll rejoice at just how good the restoration is. It's a pity all silent releases can't be like this one but then when it comes to any of the arts in this country, most of the money available goes somewhere else and no project is better than it's bottom line. Too bad."
Influential Film Is Still Amusing But Needs Restoration
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 04/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The 1922 play THE CAT AND THE CANARY was so popular that it made the fortune of author John Willard, who lived to see it filmed no fewer than three times before his death in 1942. Even today the story remains a classic of its kind, inspiring a host of films that mix comedy, mystery, and horror--not to mention still more that focus on suspicious doings in old, dark houses. When questioned by author Gavin Lambert, director James Whale very specifically indicated that the 1927 film version, along with the 1928 THE LAST WARNING, influenced his own work in such films as FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE.
Both THE CAT AND THE CANARY and THE LAST WARNING were created for Universal by director Paul Leni. But while THE LAST WARNING is not presently available to the home market, THE CAT AND THE CANARY most certainly is, and even some eighty years later is possible to see what all the fuss was about. In term of cinematography, CAT is a remarkably imaginative film, using a series of over-lapping images, close-ups, and dissolves to astonishing effect. In a visual sense it is easily one of the most stylish films of the silent era.
The plot is a classic of its kind. Like the original Willard play, the film's story mixes a host of already-cliched ideas with several then-new ones. Today, of course, it can be a bit difficult to them apart! But even so it remains a fair amount of fun. An eccentric millionaire has been hounded to death by his greedy relatives--and when he dies he leaves behind a will that imposes a twenty year waiting period between his death and delivery of his estate to his heir. But who will the heir be? The candidates assemble to hear the will at midnight... and no sooner is the heir named than strange doings are afoot.
The characters are archetypes: the nice girl (Laura La Plante), the mild-mannered boy (Creighton Hale), the fashion princess (Gertrude Astor), the battle ax matron (Flora Finch), and so on. Perhaps most memorable is the housekeeper (Martha Mattox), an exceedingly dour woman most ironically named Mammy Pleasant! Add in an exasperated lawyer, a creepy doctor, secret passages, hairy hands with needle-like finger nails, stolen diamonds, and as many dashes of comedy as you can get away with, mix well, and you have the inspiration for a seemingly endless list of classic films.
Although they may seem overly broad by modern standards, the cast plays at the level of what was considered comic-realistic in the late silent era, the production values are first rate, and the plot is quirky enough in a silly sort of way to make the whole thing fun. But it is really the direction and the look of the thing that scores; in its best moments, THE CAT AND THE CANARY is plenty good indeed.
The film is available in several DVD releases. You should avoid the Alpha release; although the picture is passable, the score is so dire that it completely undermines the film. Although it clearly needs further restoration, the Image release is superior and offers your choice of scores, both of which work with the film rather than against it. Recommended for silent fans and those interested in the development of the classic horror film!
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
In Memory of Bob Zeidler, Amazon Reviewer
Greatly Missed and Not Forgotten"
The Most Beautifully Restored Version Yet!!
Verona Lakes | California | 02/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you want to purchase The Cat and the Canary, and can't figure out which version to get, this is definatly the one I would recommend. It is one of the best restorations I have seen yet.
Thoughtfully revised, it gives the viewer two choices in audio sound, the old fixed up original soundtrack, and a beautifull new soundtrack that takes the movie to a much higher level. At last, the music fits with the story and the actions. A silent film is heavily dependent on it's music as well as facial espressions for setting the mood and telling the story. In the past versions I've seen I found the music to be a distraction. Bravo and thankyou to Franklyn Stover for finally setting it straight!
This version is also artisticly color tinted, adding mood and drama to intensify the scenes.
This is a must see classic! Funny and thrilling, artistic and thoughtful. Very creative camera work pulls you in and takes you on a fun ride. Packed with mystery, suspense and humor. A film you are sure to enjoy watching over and over.
Wonderful Haunted House Film with Harold Lloyd Bonus
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 11/14/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This silent film may rank high among those that are written about far more often than anybody ever sees them. THE CAT AND THE CANARY is well worth the wait - in my case, it's been about 40 years between first reading a glowing account of the film and finally viewing it. And I wasn't disappointed. Of course, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief and I wondered why it was necessary to explain away everything as having a natural, and not supernatural, origin. Still, the film is great fun - sort of like going to a Halloween party.Paul Leni's expressionistic directing does wonders with the story although its stage origins are apparent. Had Leni not died in 1929, I wonder what he might have done with DRACULA as early Universal publicity claimed he would direct it. The DVD contains a great bonus of an early Harold Lloyd short, HAUNTED SPOOKS, from 1920. Consistently inventive, this film is chilling on its own terms because Lloyd lost the thumb and index finger of his right hand during the filming. He was posing for publicity photos and was holding a lighted but supposedly dud bomb. It went off. Despite his hospitalization and the obvious trauma he suffered, Lloyd was back at work on HAUNTED SPOOKS within a few weeks, wearing a flesh-colored glove on his right hand with a prosthetic thumb and finger. It's interesting to compare footage that is clearly "before and after" based on how he uses his right hand. This tragedy didn't stop Lloyd from making this film into a top comedy or from going on to be a star of feature films, enjoying a popularity that was second only to Charlie Chaplin. Now that's REAL determination!"