October Countdown: The Cat and the Canary (1978)

–An asylum for the criminally insane. We’re just up the road.
–Oh. Well, that’s convenient.

Our third adaptation of The Cat and the Canary brings us to England in the 1930s. While it pushes some implications of the source material a little further than past versions, it aims squarely at being a dark comedy, with the emphasis on laughs. There’s not much else you can do with conventions and tropes the source mocked back in the 1920s.

Cast and Crew

Directed by Radley Metzger
Adapted by Radley Metzger from the play by John Willard.

Honor Blackman as Susan Sillsby
Michael Callan as Paul Jones
Edward Fox as Hendricks
Wendy Hiller as Crosby
Olivia Hussey as Cicily
Beatrix Lehmann as Mrs. Pleasant
Carol Lynley as Annabelle West
Daniel Massey as Dr. Harry Blythe
Peter McEnery as Charlie Wilder
Wilfrid Hyde-White as Cyrus West


This version locates us in England in 1934, where the now-familiar plot unfolds. Instead of a reading of the will, however, we have a sound film, preserved since 1914, in which the benefactor reads the contents aloud.

High Points

Of all the versions, this one most resembles a stage play on film, though it makes effective cinematic use of its old dark house. It preserves nicely the amusing dialogue and adds to it, while embracing the melodramatic excesses of the source, which were always meant to be comedic in nature. Additions include some brief homoerotic references that aren’t from the original play (at least not overtly), but would not have been out of place in it. The cast is uneven, but they deliver the dry, dark wit effectively more often than not.

Low Point

Experimental sound film existing in 1914, but it did not work especially well, and the video-will looks and feels anachronistic. Why not just set the story a little later in time? The 1930s setting isn’t specifically necessary.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 Apparently, we needed another adaptation of this story.

Effects: 4/6

Acting: 4/6 The performances vary quite a bit, from strong to a little lazy.

Production: 4/6 The production is fair, if low-budget, and this version is willing to suggest more gruesome implications than its predecessors.

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 5/6 This film is a lot better than it has any right to be.

In total, The Cat and the Canary (1978) receives 26/42

2 replies on “October Countdown: The Cat and the Canary (1978)”

    • I would definitely watch the 1927 version, unless you have a strong aversion to silent cinema. As for the other two– it depends on whether you’re in the mood for Golden Age of Hollywood comedy or dry, occasionally dark, witty banter. The 1939 version is exactly the movie you’d expect to find Bob Hope in. The 1970s has a little more bite and that very strange business with the old film of the deceased benefactor, but it’s basically riffing on the source material, crossed with a game of Clue. None take themselves entirely seriously, nor does the source material intend to be taken entirely seriously.

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