The Cat and the Canary is a 1927 American silent horror film adaptation of John Willard’s 1922 black comedy play of the same name. Directed by German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni, the film stars Laura La Plante as Annabelle West, Forrest Stanley as Charles “Charlie” Wilder, and Creighton Hale as Paul Jones. The plot revolves around the death of Cyrus West, who is Annabelle, Charlie, and Paul’s uncle, and the reading of his will 20 years later. Annabelle inherits her uncle’s fortune, but when she and her family spend the night in his haunted mansion they are stalked by a mysterious figure. Meanwhile, a lunatic known as “the Cat” escapes from an asylum and hides in the mansion.
The film is part of a genre of comedy horror films inspired by 1920s Broadway stage plays. Paul Leni’s adaptation of Willard’s play blended expressionism with humor, a style Leni was notable for and critics recognized as unique. Leni’s style of directing made The Cat and the Canary influential in the “old dark house” genre of films popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. The film was one of Universal’s early horror productions and is considered “the cornerstone of Universal’s school of horror.” The play has been filmed five other times, with the most notable in 1939 starring comedic actor Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.
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