I love it when Hollywood gets all continental! After the German Expressionist movement swept the cinematic world by storm in the 1920s, Hollywood just had to have it. Films like THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, METROPOLIS, M and DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER were impressing the hell out of movie-going world and the moguls of tinsel town wanted in. Highly regarded directors F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch were hired by Hollywood, where light and shadow met glitz and glamour.
|Say What? A scene from Leni's 1924 film, WAXWORKS.
Pickford had Lubitsch, Fox had Murnau and Lang went to MGM. Carl Laemmle of Universal Studios wanted a German, too, and, in 1927, enticed Paul Leni to come work for him. Leni is largely forgotten today. His resume is short, as he died in 1929 of blood poisoning, but he made his mark on Universal.
Leni's debut American film was 1927's THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Based on a popular and long-running play of the same name, it is essentially an Old Dark House story played for laughs and chills. What makes this film special is the look and atmosphere created by the director.
|The creepy West mansion: New York by way of Berlin
The story concerns Cyrus West, a dying millionaire whose money hungry family hangs over his impending corpse like cats around a canary. His home is a Gothic house perfect for haunting and his life is consumed with pills and medicine. Both the home and the medicine nightmare are eerily depicted in fine expressionistic fashion that create a most unsettling vision. His dying edict is that his will, bequeathing his fortune to an unnamed relative, is to be read at the stroke on midnight exactly 20 years after his death. In the 20 years following his death only faithful servant Mammy Pleasant (!) has inhabited his home. As you can see from the photo above, she was not a very conscientious housekeeper.
|Morticia & Gomez would approve
Hollywood meets Berlin when the greedy relatives appear. Lawyer Tully Marshall waits for all to gather by midnight, but already knows that the will, presumably locked away in a vault since the old man died, has been tampered with. He is joined by expectant relatives Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), Charlie Wilder (Forrest Stanley), Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), Susan Silby (Flora Finch) and her daughter Cecily (Gertrude Astor). They are all wary of one another and are all dreaming of the millions they could soon have their hands on.
|Who inherits the loot?