Director Paul Leni’s famed 1927 Universal Studios silent version of John Willard’s long-running stage play stars Creighton Hale, Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, Flora Finch, Gertrude Astor and Lucien Littlefield.
Robert F Hill, Alfred A Cohn and Walter Anthony provide the screenplay, in which people gather in a haunted house to be told the contents of a will, made by rich old Cyrus West, a man who had died 20 years earlier but stipulated that his could only read 20 years after his death. It turns out that none of the relations is left anything, except a distant niece, Annabelle West (Laura LaPlante), and she can only inherit if it is proved that she is not mad.
Leni’s first American film, after he had made the classic Waxworks (1924) in Germany, brings all his Expressionistic tendencies to bear on a comic melodrama that is still the cat’s whiskers thanks to the good performances, especially by Forrest Stanley, as Charles Wilder, in wildly over-the-top horror makeup.
The movie is very slightly let down by unnecessary exterior scenes though, filmed in a vain attempt at opening up the theatrical material.
Also in the cast are Arthur Edmund Carewe, George Siegmann, Martha Mattox, Joe Murphy and Billy Engle.
It was remade as The Cat and the Canary with Bob Hope in 1939 and again as The Cat and the Canary in 1978.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 4425
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