THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) Reviews and overview


The Cat and the Canary starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard is a 1939 comedy horror film remake of the 1927 film The Cat and the Canary, which was based on the 1922 play of the same name by John Willard. The Paramount production was directed by Elliott Nugent.

paulette goddard cat and the canary 1939


Cyrus Norman was a millionaire who lived in the Louisiana bayous with his mistress Miss Lu (Sondergaard); he died ten years previously. Native American man (Regas) paddles Mr. Crosby (George Zucco), the executor of Norman’s estate, through alligator-infested waters to Norman’s isolated mansion, where his will is to be read at midnight.

At the mansion, Crosby meets Miss Lu, who lives there with a large black cat. When he removes the will from a safe, he discovers that someone has tampered with it.

cat and the canary spanish poster

Crosby and Miss Lu are joined by Norman’s survivors: Joyce Norman (Goddard), Fred Blythe (Beal), Charles Wilder (Montgomery), Cicily (Westman), Aunt Susan (Patterson), and Wally Campbell (Hope).

As the group gathers in the parlour to read the will, an unseen gong rings seven times. According to Miss Lu, this means that only seven of the eight people present will survive the night…


“The Cat is pretty creepy looking for an old movie, and there’s a nice sequence of him sneaking around a hidden passageway, trying to catch up to our heroine (Paulette Goddard), and even killing a random cop in the process (still not sure what the hell the cop was doing in there, but it doubles the film’s body count, so no complaints!)” Horror Movie a Day

“Elliott Nugent (no relation, skeptics) has directed it smartly, taking full advantage of the standard chiller devices for frightening the susceptibles of his audience but never losing sight of his main objective—comedy […] the objective is carried briskly and to our complete satisfaction. Good show.” Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, November 23, 1939

” …it’s a perfect vehicle for Hope’s bluff, cowardly persona. Predictable, but surprisingly atmospheric (Sondergaard helps no end) and often very funny.” Geoff Andrew, The Time Out Film Guide

“Director Nugent […] does a great job in presenting some spine-tingling moments: claw-like hands reach out for the heroine and everyone seems to disappear through swiveling bookcases, sliding doors, and false panels. Lang’s camera work is properly moody and supporting player Sondergaard gives a high-camp performance…” TV Guide

“Unlike in most of his films, Hope is a bit more restrained here, not relying purely mugging and fast humorous quips, though there are plenty of good lines. When asked if big empty houses scare him, Hope responds, “Not me, I use to be in vaudeville.” The film is more plot driven and is filled with many nice touches of spooky thrills.” Twenty Four Frames


“The scenes where Goddard is being stalked by “The Cat” brim with atmosphere. Just the shots of the creepy looking Cat lurking in the foreground is scary by itself. The climax is genuinely hair-raising and suspenseful too. It’s truly one of the best horror-comedies ever made.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

  • Bob Hope … Wally Campbell
  • Paulette Goddard … Joyce Norman
  • John Beal … Fred Blythe
  • Douglass Montgomery … Charlie Wilder
  • Gale Sondergaard … Miss Lu
  • Elizabeth Patterson … Aunt Susan
  • Nydia Westman … Cicily
  • George Zucco … Lawyer Crosby
  • John Wray … Hendricks
  • George Regas … Indian Guide
  • William Abbey … ‘The Cat’ (uncredited)
  • Milton Kibbee … Photographer (uncredited)
  • Charles Lane … Reporter (uncredited)
  • Frank Melton … Reporter (uncredited)
  • Nick Thompson … Indian Guide (uncredited)
  • Chief Thundercloud … Indian Guide (uncredited)

Ad mat image courtesy of Twenty Four Frames

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