Saturday, November 18, 2017

30 years before Scooby-Doo

Last night I watched The Cat and the Canary since it's available on DVD and since it's short enough I could watch in one sitting in the evening before going to bed. Longer movies will have to wait until the mornings.

The lawyer Crosby is making his way to a house somewhere in the Louisiana bayous; it turns out that a rich, eccentric old man died there ten years ago with his housekeeper, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) staying to maintain the place. According to the terms of the dead man's will, the rest of the will wasn't going to be read until ten years after his death or some nonsense that I don't think would be legal and doesn't need to make much sense for the rest of the movie anyway. Anyhow, the lawyer is here for that will reading; a bunch of relatives who are cousins of each other show up in ones and twos.

Among them are vaudevillean Wally (Bob Hope); the lovely Joyce (Paulette Goddard); the young men Fred (John Beal) and Charlie (Douglass Montgomery); and a couple of older aunt types. The old man's will specifies that one and only one of the assembled is going to inherit the money, but with the caveat that if that person dies or is found insane within a month of the will reading, than a second relative, whose identity is kept secret in a separate codicil, will inherit that money. The first in line to get all the money is... Joyce!

Naturally, everybody tries to start getting Joyce to crack up mentally, except possibly Wally, who seems almost romantically attracted to the lovely Joyce and wants to protect her even though he's a coward at heart. And then word comes that "the Cat" has escaped from a local asylum and there's an officer who's reached the island where the house is looking for the Cat. Strange things start to happen, with eyes looking through the cut out eyes of a painting, and secret passages.

As I was watching The Cat and the Canary, I couldn't help but think of the Scooby Doo cartoons from the 1970s, where there was always a bad guy in a mask trying to scare the bejeezus out of everybody in order to get some financial gain down the line, and things like eyes looking through a painting and secret passages. And, of course, the climax with Fred pulling the mask off the guilty party, who informs us that he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Of course, there are no meddling kids here, and the movie is supposed to be a straight-up comedy with a few horror elements, being a parody of the "old dark house" genre.

The Cat and the Canary does mostly work, although I have to admit that I wouldn't give it quite as high a rating as most other commenters seem to do. Part of that probably has to do with Bob Hope's humor not really being my thing; another part might have to do with my being reminded of Scooby Doo. At least there's no Scrappy here. Still, I'm sure that most people will enjoy this one, and many of you will probably enjoy it even more than I did.