An old mansion on a dark, stormy night. A creepy housekeeper. The reading of the will twenty years after the death of millionaire Cyrus West. Assorted relatives who would kill for their share of the inheritance. A maniac on the loose from the insane asylum nearby. Who could ask for anything more? The Cat and the Canary may be the film that started it all. In fact, James Whales credits it as his inspiration for The Old Dark House (1932).
The Cat and the Canary is excellent filmmaking. If you've never watched many silent films before, this is a wonderful place to start. Cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton and director Paul Leni give us a visual feast using lots of camera tricks that were innovative for their time. Layered images, shadow play, rapidly changing perspectives and creative use of text between scenes makes this one a feast for the eyes. I especially appreciate the "villain cam" toward the beginning of the film. It gives the viewer the perspective of seeing through their eyes as they sneak around the house. It is a trick that would later be used to great effect in classics such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
The acting is great as well with a nice mixture of dramatic and comedic moments. I'm certain that audiences loved this one when it was shown in movie theaters. It has such broad appeal and is so well done. Why haven't I heard of it before now? It is just as good as classic silent horror films such as Phantom of the Opera and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Silent films are definitely an acquired taste. However, I really enjoy seeing where it all began. It makes me appreciate how far we've come and how much these early films still influence the movies we make today. You can download The Cat and the Canary off of Archive.org but I recommend renting the film through Netflix. It deserves to be seen on a much bigger screen than your lap top. Don't miss it.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.