Witness for the Prosecution fame, and based on John Willard’s original 1922 stage play, the popular thriller was eventually adapted for both stage and screen in 1927 and 1930. Director Elliott Nugent (My Favorite Brunette, Up in Arms) joined forces with Hope and Goddard for this 1939 version of the story, adding more witty, playful comedy and romance to Willard’s thriller. This version worked so well that Hope and Goddard made two more films together: The Ghost Breakers (1940), and Nothing But the Truth (1941). For the record, there was also a 1979 version. I never saw it, but the stars sound promising: Yanks Carol Lynley and Michael Callan, and Brits Honor Blackman, Wendy Hiller, Edward Fox, Olivia Hussey, Daniel Massey, Peter McEnery, and Wilfrid Hyde-White. But I digress….
Here's looking at you, kids!
Universal actually owned the rights to Willard’s play, but sold them to Paramount. Fun Fact: the film, along with the 1940 film The Ghost Breakers (which I’ll discuss next time), was an inspiration to Walt Disney for his Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland! Focusing on the funny, The New York Times’ film critic Frank S. Nugent describes Bob Hope not as the thing with feathers a la Emily Dickenson, but as having “a chin like a forehead and a gag line for every occasion… (This version of the story) is more hair-brained than hair-raising, which is as it should be.” I agree: with this cast, fun and suspense make a swell team, including the delightful Nydia Westman (the 1933 version of Little Women; The Remarkable Andrew; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken) as Cousin Cicily, a charmingly daft flibbertigibbet among the late Cyrus Norman’s relatives. The supporting cast weren’t small potatoes, either, with George Zucco (The Mummy; After the Thin Man; The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Gale Sondergaard (Anna and the King of Siam; The Letter; and Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner for Anthony Adverse). I especially enjoyed Sondergaard as Miss Lu; she’s kinda like a sophisticated Bayou Mrs. Danvers played for straight-faced laughs, blending mystery, menace, and mirth. Both Zucco and Sondergaard playfully spoof the more ominous roles they were known for, while still being spooky enough to keep viewers on their toes, blending suspense and comedy into a sparkling cocktail. As Lawyer Crosby (no relation to Hope’s future screen co-star Bing Crosby), George Zucco’s foreboding presence adds the right touch of menace.
|Meet the lady known as Lu!|
|Hello, I’m Mrs. Trumbull! Mrs. Ricardo|
recommended me. Anyone need a
babysitter for spectral spooks?
Joyce and Wally ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
That comes later, in The Ghost Breakers!
|Oops, Joyce grabbed the wrong book.|
She was looking for Bazooka Joe’s
bubble gum bio, The Psychology of Fleer!
If you like The Cat and The Canary, check out other reviews of this fun film by other swell bloggers!
1.) Yvette Banek from her stupendous blog IN SO MANY WORDS from March 2012!
2.) John Greco’s Twenty-Four Frames review from May 2011!
Also, don't miss an uncredited Charles Lane (Ball of Fire; I Wake Up Screaming, etc.) in the final scene! I admit it, I'm a sucker for a happy ending, especially a funny one!