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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Chiller With Light Seasoning


The Cat and The Canary (1927) Where Old House Horror Began

Here's my idea of a thrill: The Cat and The Canary for the first time from 35mm nitrate and tinted beautifully throughout. This is one of the PHOTOPLAY restorations supervised by Kevin Brownlow, and what life it breathes it into a chill show till now viewed on compromised basis from 16mm. Actually, those latter seemed OK (for decades) before Brownlow and team did magic. The whole story of Cat/Canary reclaim is told by Christopher Bird, who worked on the project, in a Fall 2009 article for The Moving Image journal. What he reveals about alternate scenes, two-camera shooting, etc. during the silent era, amounts to education way beyond mere matter of The Cat and The Canary's rescue, and makes ideal dessert to viewing of the Kino DVD, which utilized PHOTOPLAY'S best-ever presentation.






Direct From Broadway to Ft. Worth
The Cat and The Canary is an old house thriller in the best sense of scares mixed with comedy, a format known well to patrons for whom further intensity would have been not only unwelcome, but distasteful. We tend to imagine true horrors as having been withheld from a public that wanted them, but I'm of opinion that folks got all of goosebumps needed to enjoy nights out and still sleep afterward. Old housing was popular real estate at theatres right from movies' beginning to late 60's juncture when rules of decorum got disrupted by likes of Night Of The Living Dead and later, Halloween, progenitors of horror that parents could no longer drop off kids to see. These were more disruptive than even we who lived through the upheaval can remember. Chillers now shockers became province of teenagers who'd insist such stuff nauseate them for a proper ticket's worth.




Despite its not-altogether serious approach, The Cat and The Canary was very much the inspiration for lights staying on or candles kept lit on return home. It's only by seeing quality like PHOTOPLAY's that you realize how effective this show was when nitrate-unspooled in 1927. Every shot is composed to creep maximum, with uneasy feeling maintained throughout. Moments relaxed are prelude to cymbal-crash when a clawed hand reaches forward or bodies tumble out of hidden passageway. I never enjoyed The Cat and The Canary so much as this time, all that thanks to PHOTOPLAY handiwork. If there is such thing as a classic reborn, here she is. Universal's horror franchise was a flag raised to full mast with Cat/Canary; it didn't need Dracula to herald arrival. Of course, there had been The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and Phantom Of The Opera to introduce famous monsters, but to my mind, it's The Cat and The Canary that sealed chiller mastery deal for Laemmle's Universal. To be without it is to miss a landmark that led to all the Shock Theatres that followed. I only wish we'd had The Cat and The Canary on late show display when initiated first to the Uni horror tradition.

6 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

This is one of my favorite silent films. Too bad Paul Leni's career was cut short.

12:10 PM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

I wish we had it in HD

6:49 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

$10.57 at Amazon. Gonna splurge and replace my Image / Blackhawk disc (which was pretty darn good, but this is a favorite film).

11:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

You won't be sorry, Donald. It's a beauty.

5:43 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

S. Sobolewski files positive report on the restored "Cat and The Canary":


THE CAT AND THE CANARY is a "Desert Island disc" in my collection.

After owning substandard copies from Video Yesteryear and others,
The David Shepard release on Image was a revelation.

The print appears to be from a Universal "Show at Home"and it was the
best version available until the release of the Photoplay edition.

The Photoplay version is sourced from a foreign nitrate print and it
looks wonderful.

Seeing the Universal globe logo and watching the opening title sequence
without the break in the Shepard print was a real treat.

While the theremin score from Neil Brand is effective for the mood, I'm
still partial to the original score from the "Cyrus West players" on the
Image DVD.

This really should be on Blu ray.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Imagine if Paul Leni had directed THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. That already great film would have been even more something to see. I still remember the chills my 8mm Entertainment Films print of this gave me when I unspooled it in the late 1960s. I had never seen anything like it. Still haven't.

7:10 AM  

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