October Countdown: The Cat and the Canary (1939)

The second surviving adaptation of The Cat and the Canary casts Bob Hope and plays the story, already a horror/comedy, almost entirely for laughs.

Cast and Crew

Directed by Elliott Nugent
Adapted by Walter DeLeon and Lynn Starling from the play by John Willard.

Bob Hope as Wally Campbell
Paulette Goddard as Joyce Norman
John Beal as Fred Blythe
Douglass Montgomery as Charlie Wilder
Gale Sondergaard as Miss Lu
Nydia Westman as Cicily
George Zucco as Crosby
John Wray as Hendricks
Elizabeth Patterson as Aunt Susan
Chief Thundercloud as Guide
George Regas as Guide


The premise remains the same as the 1927 adaptation, but relocates the mansion to a Louisiana Bayou.

High Points

This adaptation lacks the style of the first one, but it can recreate the banter of the original script, and it contains some visual flourishes of its own. It switches the location from an island on the Hudson River to a house on the Louisiana Bayou. The change allows for a mist-shrouded, mood-setting environment and some snappy shots of alligators…

Low Point

…And creates a logical and visual incongruities. I can accept so many people wandering around swampland in the middle of the night, since that’s about normal in a horror/comedy. However, the house’s crumbling, stony cellar and cracked underground passageway play key roles in the story. We even see characters rise out of the tunnel at ground level, with the swampwater lapping a few feet away. Architecturally and geographically, this makes little sense.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 This second adaptation proved quite popular.

Effects: 3/6 The Cat gets less stylized, more realistic look that reflects the influence of Univeral’s classic monsters.

Acting: 5/6 The film features the stagey acting we would expect from the comedy of this era. If you like that kind of thing, this cast generally delivers.

Production: 5/6

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6 The Cat and the Canary proved to be a hit, which further bolstered Hope’s rising star and influenced other genres. In 1941, Harvey Comics introduced the Black Cat, one of the first female superheroes and the first to use that name. Five years later DC took her basic look, modus operandi, and elements of her origin story, and introduced “Black Canary.” Her odd sobriquet almost certainly took its cue from The Cat and the Canary.

In total, The Cat and the Canary (1939) receives 27/42


All versions replace the West Indian character who plays a key role in the source play with someone of European background. The ’39 one identifies this character as a Creole woman, as one might expect in the new setting, though she is played by someone decidedly not of Creole background.

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