Cat and the Canary, The (1927) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Apr 29, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Cat and the Canary, The (1927) (Blu-ray Review)


Paul Leni

Release Date(s)

1927 (April 23, 2024)


Universal Pictures (Eureka Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A-

The Cat and the Canary (1927) (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Adapted numerous times for film and television all over the world since its debut as a stage play in 1922, The Cat and the Canary helped to engineer what we now know as the “old dark house” mystery suspense film, which also essentially became the horror comedy. Universal’s 1927 version is often cited as the cream of the crop, though the Bob Hope-starring version from 1939 is perhaps the most well-known. The 1930 version, released under the title The Cat Creeps, was remade in 1946, though the 1930 original is currently considered a lost film, with only a couple of minutes surviving in the short parody film Boo!. The last big screen version was released in the late 1970s under the direction of Radley Metzger, but none hold a candle to the 1927 original.

In a tale as old as cinema itself, an estranged family gathers at the mansion of their late relative Cyrus West, an eccentric millionaire who died twenty years prior after going insane, but not before instructing his lawyer and caretaker that his last will and testament be read aloud on the anniversary of his death. The six surviving family members gather to learn that West has bequeathed his fortunes to his niece Annabelle, but with the stipulation that she be examined and judged sane by a physician. If not, then the West fortune will pass on to the next family member, who is named in an unopened second will, which puts Annabelle in obvious danger from anyone seeking to harm her or drive her insane. As the family is informed that an escaped lunatic is loose on the mansion grounds, it will be a long night for Annabelle and her would-be protector, nephew Paul.

Though a silent film, director Paul Leni, cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, and art director Charles D. Hall pull every trick in the book to try and make it more visually interesting. It’s a spacious canvas with large, well-designed sets and carefully-executed composition, including a moment of Annabelle framed through the slats of a dining room chair, visually indicating that she’s become a prisoner in her own, inherited house. Lighting is also used to dramatic effect, including an unrealistic but no less potent moment wherein a character is hiding under a bed and only their eyes are lit when discovered. Besides the tinted frames, the intertitles are given some animated pizzazz to heighten the emotion of specific moments. The camera is also anything but still, frequently dollying in and out, while exhibiting point-of-view shots, particularly during the film’s most famous moment when Annabelle sits up in bed and screams “HELP!,” which leaps up onto the screen shockingly and aggressively, thanks to those aforementioned intertitles.

Under the guidance of the head of Universal Pictures at the time, Carl Laemmle, one wonders what the future might have held had Paul Leni lived beyond his next three projects: The Chinese Parrot, The Man Who Laughs, and The Last Warning. Would he have been responsible for directing the original Dracula had he not died early at the age of 44 from something highly preventable, which was sepsis from a tooth infection? Well, that’s difficult to say for certain, but based upon his work in The Cat and the Canary and The Man Who Laughs, it’s not hard to imagine that being a possibility. The American cinema landscape might have been even further influenced by the German expressionism of the era, despite Leni trying his best to make a more mainstream American film (for lack of a better term). Regardless, The Cat and the Canary managed to influence an entire genre that slowly morphed into what we now call the horror film, which is certainly not what anybody involved was aiming for at the time. It’s a marvelous film and deserves a higher stature than the substandard copyright-free presentations of the past.

The Cat and the Canary was shot by cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton on 35mm black-and-white (tinted) film using Mitchell cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Eureka Entertainment debuts the film on Blu-ray as part of their “The Masters of Cinema” series with a presentation taken from a 4K restoration of the original negatives held by the Museum of Modern Art. This is leaps and bounds beyond any prior presentation, either on VHS, DVD, or even the many low quality copies floating around on Youtube. It’s fresh and vibrant throughout, maintaining a high bitrate, and revealing levels of crisp detail never before seen. The blue, green, and gold tints aid the atmosphere, and while there are still moments of leftover scratches and speckling, it’s revelatory how good the film looks, and how well it holds up almost 100 years later. It all appears to come from the same high quality source, outside of a single shot, lasting from 75:35 to 75:39, which appears to have been taken from a lower quality, standard definition source. There’s no explanation as to why, but it may have been simply missing from the negative, or damaged altogether, and had to be substituted. As it lasts all of 4 seconds, it’s a merely a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the picture and doesn’t stand out as much as one might think. Blacks are also deep with excellent contrast and delineation when black and white images appear, which is seen only during the opening credits.

Audio is included in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The final title card at the end of the film tells us the following: “Score compiled, synchronized, and edited by Gillian B. Anderson, based on a cue sheet issued by MJ Mintz, compiled by James C. Bradford for the original release. Music score conducted by Robert Israel.” It’s about as close as we can get to the original score that played to these images upon its original release. Even so, it’s a spacious and effective effort, even containing a couple of moments of actual sound effects, which is not much more than wind and knocking on a door, but it certainly adds to the spooky atmosphere.

The Region A/B Blu-ray of The Cat and the Canary sits in a clear Amaray case alongside a double-sided insert, featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys on the front and the original theatrical poster artwork on the reverse, a slipcover featuring the same new artwork, and a 36-page insert booklet containing cast and crew credits, the essays Laughter in the Shadows by Imogen Sara Smith, The Grotesque Mansion of an Eccentric Millionaire by Craig Ian Mann, Un Chat Andalou by Richard Combs, a set of viewing notes (including information about the evil that is motion smoothing), and a set of production credits. The following extras are included on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
  • Audio Commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
  • Mysteries Mean Dark Corners (29:02)
  • Pamela Hutchinson on The Cat and the Canary (13:04)
  • Phuong Le on The Cat and the Canary (9:11)
  • Extracts from John Willard’s Original Play:
    • “A Very Eccentric Man” (3:11)
    • “Yeah, a Cat!” (2:15)
  • Lucky Strike Radio Ad featuring “Paul Leni” (:53)

The audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/film critic Kim Newman is more of an avid discussion between the two, more so than a commentary, which anyone familiar with their commentaries from other releases will be more than familiar with. In the other audio commentary with author and film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby, they’re far more screen-specific and analytical, but no less interesting and entertaining. Mysteries Mean Dark Corners is a new video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson, who devote themselves to the re-telling of the history of the play and its many adaptations, as well as the “old dark house” genre as a whole. Film critic Pamela Hutchinson then goes on to discuss various aspects of the film, delving into its characters, cast, and crew. Film critic Phuong Le then explores much of the film’s design and how cinematography is used to tell its story. Next are two brief, audio-only re-enactments of John Willard’s original play, which are set to stills from the film. And last is a false radio ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes featuring “Paul Leni,” produced by the same production team.

In terms of soundtracks, the Alpha Video DVD release contains the Nu Vu Du score in 2.0 mono Dolby Digital; the 2005 Image Entertainment DVD release contains the Franklin Stover & the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra score and Eric Beheim’s MIDI synthesizer score, based upon James C. Bradford’s original score, both presented in 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital; and the 2007 Kino DVD release contains the Neil Brand score in 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital. It’s worth nothing that the 1998 Image Entertainment DVD also features the 1920 short film Haunted Spooks. As always, your mileage may vary on whether or not to keep these discs if you own any of them.

Long-time genre fans who have been eternally-devoted to the Universal horrors of old would do well to pick up The Cat and the Canary as it’s not only a valuable piece of that puzzle, but also an astounding presentation of an excellent film. In other hands, it would have been a more generic, though not entirely unentertaining, suspense comedy. But in the hands of filmmakers who wanted to do something more with the material, it rises above the mediocre and becomes a classic. Eureka’s Blu-ray release is outstanding and comes highly recommended!

- Tim Salmons

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