German Expressionism and The Cat and Canary (1927)

     German Expressionism was a post-World War I art movement in architecture, painting and film, which is remembered primarily in film.  The early Expressionist films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), and The Last Laugh (1924) were all made in Germany.  When the films were exported to America with critical and popular acclaim, several German directors made their way to Hollywood.  After the Nazis started to come to power, the trickle became a flood.

     Paul Leni, who directed The Cat and Canary (1927), was originally an art director in the German studio system during the early years of German Expressionism. Leni later moved to directing.

     When Leni moved to America, he directed his first film The Cat and the Canary in 1927.  Leni brought German Expressionism to America with this film.  From the Gothic mansion, to the composition of props and set design inside the house, to the doctor that bears a remarkable resemblance to Dr. Caligari, the film is Expressionistic through and through.

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The Cat and the Canary poster from 1927 – Courtesy of Creative Commons

     Leni directed this film for Universal Pictures and would influence future films such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933).  Arthur Edeson openly admired Leni.  Edeson was the cinematographer for Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.

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German Expressionism and The Cat and the Canary available in paperback and e-book

     This film runs a little more than 1 hour and 20 minutes and is well worth your time investment.  The best copy is available on Netflix but it is also available on YouTube.  It stars Laura LaPlante, Creighton Hale and Arthur Edmunde Carewe.

     The film centers around the reading of Cyrus West’s will.  Cyrus died 20 years earlier and mandates that all the heirs meet at midnight twenty years after his death for the reading of the will.  One of the heirs is intent on doing anything, including committing murder, to secure West’s millions.

     If you have seen the movie The Old Dark House (1932), you will see a number of similarities.  I give the film three and a half out of four stars.

     If you like this post, you may like the book German Expressionism and The Cat and the Canary.  You can see other posts like this one by clicking here.

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