The Cat and the Canary (1927 silent film) – reviewed by George

Cyrus West has died – harried by his heirs to the point of despair and fear. He is the canary and they are the cats, clawing at him unmercifully. But the next laugh is his: he has provided that his will is not to be opened for 20 years after his death. And there is a special envelope on which he has written, “This envelope is never to be opened if the terms of my will are carried out.”
The attorney Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall) arrives at West’s mansion, which has been visited by no one for 20 years. To the servant Mammy Pleasant (Martha Mattox), Crosby says, “You must have been lonely here these 20 years, Mammy Pleasant.” She replies, “I don’t need the living ones.” He goes to the safe, the safe he shut and locked twenty years before, and a live moth is found crawling around inside, fluttering its wings. “Who has opened this safe?” he demands. But no answer is forthcoming because the possible heirs begin to arrive, and the surprise is that these young people (all but two) must have been children when  Cyrus died. They are the children of the cats. First is Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carew), fortyish, brunette and handsome. Then Charlie Wilder (Forrest Stanley), younger, blonde, open; Aunt Susan (Flora Finch), snippy, pinched, unhappy; her niece Cecily (Gertrude Astor), pleasant, attractive, a bit blousy; Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), hero AND comic relief; and Annabelle West (Laura La Plante), our heroine, who greets Paul quite cheerfully, “Why, Paul! I haven’t seen you since nurse dropped you on your head.”
Well, Annabelle is the sole heir. And then comes  a separate and unexpected instruction: the heir must be examined and declared sane, and a doctor is already on his way! And a guard arrives from the nearby asylum with a net and the news that a maniac has escaped, and he must search the grounds. And then there’s a murder.
The tropes used here for suspense and fear are the same ones we see today, but here they are diluted somewhat by the fact that the actors can’t adequately explain themselves. Dialogue cards just aren’t long enough for the lines that are needed. And the actors can’t scare you with a scream. There are very successful silent movies that deal with murder and suspense and scare your pants off, but this isn’t one of them, because the plot is so complicated that it really cries out for the spoken word. This is not to say that the captions are sub-standard; they are quite inventive. Some are animated, and hand-drawn lettering is used effectively. In fact I thought the dialogue cards added greatly to the mood. They are simply too short.
From the Stage Play by John Willard, Adaptation by Robert F. Hill & Alfred A. Cohn, Scenario by Alfred A. Cohn, and Directed by Paul Leni.

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