The Black Cat – USA, 1941 – reviews

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The Black Cat is a 1941 American comedy mystery horror film directed by Albert S. Rogell (The Last Warning) from a screenplay by Robert Lees (The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show “Scoobygeist”); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; Hold That Ghost) and Robert Neville for Universal Pictures.

The plot was “suggested by” the short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Lugosi had previously starred in the 1934 Universal film with the same title.

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Main cast:

Basil Rathbone (The Comedy of TerrorsThe Scarlet Claw; Autopsy of a Ghost), Hugh Herbert (One Shivery NightGet Along Little Zombie), Broderick Crawford (HarlequinThe Vulture), Bela Lugosi, Gale Sondergaard (The Cat and the Canary; Hollywood Horror House), Anne Gwynne (Teenage Monster; House of Frankenstein; Weird Woman).

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Plot:

The family of cat-obsessed Henrietta Winslow gathers at her country manor, in anticipation of her seemingly imminent death. Thinking that the elderly woman has already passed away, real estate agent Hubert Smith and antique dealer Mr. Penny arrive at the Winslow estate, only to be refused entrance by gardener Eduardo and housekeeper Abigail Doone.

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While Gil and Penny watch from outside, the invalid Henrietta appears before her family to read her will…

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Reviews:

Whether you’re a fan of mysteries, horror films (particularly the spooky house variety) or screwball comedies, The Black Cat offers a little something for everyone … But I must emphasize once more that that the majority of comedy in The Black Cat is handled by Hugh Herbert. Hugh is the main show here, so if you don’t like Hugh, you’d best be a no-show.” Scared Silly

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“What disappoints the most about The Black Cat, as much as a quickie programmer could really disappoint, is how little it manages to get out of potentially fun performers like Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi. The huge heap of nothing that Rathbone has to do here seems almost criminal misconduct from Universal’s casting department … Bela Lugosi has a more lively part…” Ryan Harvey, The Realm of Ryan

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“The viewer can easily see how the screenplay was evolved in early drafts as a gloomy old house melodrama before being passed on to gag writers to provide the finishing touches. As a result, the supposed humor doesn’t flow naturally out of the material, as if the writers didn’t have a clue how to make the basic situation seem funny.” Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931 – 1946

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“If you like 1940s-style comic relief and if you like Old Dark House films, check it out. Otherwise, don’t bother. Lugosi’s role is small and thankless, though we get one good closeup of his spiky eyebrows …

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A better Old Dark House film from the same year is Horror Island.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers

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“Featuring atmospheric camerawork that landed Stanley Cortez the cinematography gig on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (check out the cat lamps that turn a fireplace into a giant feline face); a script that crackles with one-liners; and a creepy mansion that comes with it own crematorium dedicated to deceased pussies, The Black Cat is a nostalgic laugh riot.” Peter Fuller, Kultguy’s Keep

“Childish thriller which, especially given the cast, should have been a lot better than it is. The so-called ‘comedy relief’ kills it stone dead.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films

“A routine comedy chiller … Cortez’s wonderfully creepy camerawork is the highpoint of the film.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Disappointing mystery which squanders a splendid cast on a script full of non-sequiturs and makes heavy weather of its light relief.” Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell’s Film Guide

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On the Realart re-release, Alan Ladd gets 2nd billing!

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Cast and characters:

  • Basil Rathbone … Montague Hartley
  • Hugh Herbert … Mr. Penny
  • Broderick Crawford … A. Gilmore Smith
  • Bela Lugosi … Eduardo Vigos
  • Gale Sondergaard … Abigail Doone
  • Anne Gwynne … Elaine Winslow
    Gladys Cooper … Myrna Hartley
    Cecilia Loftus … Henrietta Winslow
  • Claire Dodd … Margaret Gordon
  • John Eldredge … Stanley Borden
  • Alan Ladd … Richard Hartley

Choice dialogue:

Mr. Penny: “Looks like it’s been raining cats and cats around here.”

A. Gilmore Smith: “Sure, everything around here is for the cats. That’s why the place has gone to the dogs.”

A. Gilmore Smith: “Alright laugh, but if you wake up with your throat cut in the morning, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

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Trivia:

Both Broderick Crawford (replacing Richard Carlson) and Basil Rathbone (replacing Paul Cavanaugh) were late casting changes. Production was delayed nearly a month as a result.

The interiors and exteriors of the Winslow Mansion were utilised in such subsequent Universal releases as The Night Monster, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost and Son of Dracula.

Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!

Related:

The Black Cat – short story by Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat – USA, 1934

The Black Cat – USA, 1966

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