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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
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The Cat and
the Canary

(1927)
 

This motion picture represents one of the first of the subgenre that has come to be known as the Old Dark House film. Alongside Roland West’s The Bat (1926), The Cat and the Canary (1927) established in motion pictures the themes and traditions that had their genesis on the popular stage and culminated in fine sound films such as The Old Dark House (1932) and And Then There Were None (1945).

Over the years the formula has been repeated many times but even being able to guess the pat ending ahead of the conclusion doesn’t diminish the experience of The Cat and the Canary for the modern viewer. The film still exudes a freshness to it thanks to imaginative direction by Paul Leni and significant contributions from cast members Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale and Flora Finch.

There are no plot surprises: Laura La Plante stands to inherit millions, 20 years after her uncle’s death, if she is adjudged to be sane in accordance with Cyrus West’s will. Of course, the person next in line for the inheritance is responsible for attempts to make it appear as if she has gone nuts. However, along the way there are several amusing moments, thanks to Creighton Hale’s charming performance as Paul Jones, Flora Finch’s natty old maid character, and some fun animated intertitles.

Of Paul Leni’s direction we can say that some of the picture composition and lighting stands out as early, if not premiere, examples of the suspense cinema vocabulary. A single of shot of Martha Mattox as Mammy Pleasant, facing the camera close-up in the right-hand half of the frame, looking over her shoulder at the people out of focus in the background, stands out as an exciting early example of composition to create dramatic effect. There are several low-angle shots, and Leni also directly involves the audience in the suspense by making them privy to opening hidden doors that the film’s characters do not see until it is too late.

Mattox’s character may have been modelled by playwright John Willard on the real-life Mammy Pleasant of San Francisco history — a loyal black housekeeper for the Bell family, whose patriarch met a mysterious death.

As much as distinct moments of the film may be cinematically groundbreaking, there are also discernable tongue-in-cheek nods of homage from Leni to the German cinema. I venture to say that it is no accident that the doctor’s makeup is more than a little Caligarian. — Carl Bennett

2007 Kino International DVD edition

The Cat and the Canary (1927), color-toned black & white, 80 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K557, UPC 7-38329-05572-1.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $24.95.
DVD release date: 9 October 2007.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

This new edition of the timeless old dark house story has been mastered from the 2004 Photoplay Productions video presentation of The Cat and the Canary (1927). Producers Patrick Stanbury and Kevin Brownlow utilized original 35mm nitrate prints, with contributions from Det Danske Filminstitut, the Museum of Modern Art, and private collector Jan Zaalberg, for the video transfer.

The film is accompanied by an orchestral music score composed by Neil Brand and performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

The disc is supplemented by a photo gallery (16 images).

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2005 Image Entertainment DVD edition

The Cat and the Canary (1927), color-toned black & white, 85 minutes, not rated,
with Haunted Spooks (1920), black & white, 22 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID2476DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-24762-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 11 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $19.99.
DVD release date: 1 February 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

Remastered from a very-good to excellent 35mm print, this edition from David Shepard is such a leap forward in quality that we cheerfully doffed our copy of the 1998 Image edition noted below. The source print itself is marked by some emulsion scuffing (noticeable most in the intertitles and in a handful of other shots), fine vertical scratches, moderate speckling and dust, and a few moments of sprocket damage into the picture area (impressions from sprocket slippage in a previous run of the print).

The new natural-speed video transfer does an excellent job of holding image detail and grayscale ranges, producing a delicious viewing experience. The color toning is far more restrained and natural looking than the previous Image edition. In reevaluating the disc on upscaling, full HD equipment, the transfer remains pretty good for filmlike viewing, but the video rating might be demerited a half point for the softness of some of the shots which are only of very-good quality.

This updated edition features two music scores: an updated and rerecorded score by Eric Beheim based on the original 1927 score, and a new orchestral score by Franklin Stover, our personal listening preference.

Harold Lloyd’s two-reeler Haunted Spooks (1920) is a bonus on the DVD. See our Haunted Spooks on home video page for a review.

Overall, this DVD is a fine addition to any film lover’s collection. The suspense and the comic relief of the film will delight viewers throughout multiple viewings, not to mention its historic cinematic value. We highly recommend this remastered DVD home video edition of The Cat and the Canary.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
1998 Image Entertainment DVD edition

The Cat and the Canary (1927), color-toned black & white, 81 minutes, not rated,
with Haunted Spooks (1920), black & white, 22 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID4387DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-43872-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 20 chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $24.99.
DVD release date: 6 October 1998.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 6 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

The private-collection 16mm reduction print used for the slightly windowboxed video transfer is very-good but a little worn. The cropping of the picture for television is generous, but some shots of handwritten letters will have the outer edges of the lettering cut-off on some TVs. The print’s overall tones are a little dark, but is not a bad thing for an old dark house film like this. The color toning appears to maintain the print’s original grayscale values very well, but the color itself is a bit oversaturated creating orangey sepiatones. The older transfer, originally prepared in 1997 for laserdisc and videotape, doesn’t hold the print details that newer digital transfers do (any freeze frame will reveal that). The film’s intertitles are rendered in still frames.

The original 1927 music score has been adapted and performed on MIDI synthesizers by Eric Beheim. While I delight in the availability of the original score, I once again lament the use of synthesizers instead of a small string quartet with piano. Analog film demands analog music, gentlemen.

Overall, this DVD has been far surpassed in quality by the 2005 Image edition noted above, and we no longer recommend this out-of-print disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 Alpha Video DVD edition

The Cat and the Canary (1927), black & white, 100 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4293D, UPC 0-89218-42939-1.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 23 March 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 2 / additional content: 0 / overall: 3.

This budget edition has been mastered from a VHS videotape copy of a video transfer from 16mm reduction print materials. The print is flat and a little dark, with plugged up shadows (passable for this kind of film), and more than a little emulsion scuffing. Between the substandard print and the lack of resolution in VHS, this edition is smeary soft in image details. Also, the discrepancy between the running time of this edition and the Image edition noted above can be attributed to either extra footage or the speed of the transfer. This edition has been transferred at a speed that replicates natural movement.

Most all of the synthesizer music score, credited to Nu Vu Du Music, is horribly distorted and is a pain to listen to. You’ll think you’ve blown a speaker.

While the print used is just passable for 16mm, the VHS mastering of the disc greatly lowers its quality and the music cannot be listened to. We cannot recommend this DVD.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era PAUL LENI films available on home video:
The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Waxworks (1924)

Other OLD DARK HOUSE FILMS of the silent era available on home video:
The Bat (1926)
Midnight Faces (1926)

Other HORROR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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