There is a subgenre of horror commonly referred to as the old dark house movies. The name was inspired by the Old Dark House from 1932 and the common formula normally consists of a creepy house, hidden passages, and murder! At some point humor was added to spice things up. The Black Cat is a prime example of one of these movies.
The Winslow family has gathered for what they think is the death of the matriarch of the family. But she defies the odds, according to her doctor she is a miracle, and gleefully announces her continued existence to the assembled family. We are also introduced to our hero and the comic relief at this point. Son in law Montague has already made plans to sell the furniture and the house which brings Hubert for the house and an antique dealer named Mr. Penny for the contents. Hubert also has eyes for the granddaughter, Elaine. Hubert is present when someone tries to poison the old woman and when she later turns up dead he figures it was murder. This sets a series of events in motion that involve hidden passages, secret doors, more murders, and an attempted murder! Pretty much what you need from a movie like this. Oh yeah and there are a lot of cats. Really the old lady loved her cats.
Okay so I can’t really review this movie without giving away a couple of spoilers. This is an easy movie to find so if you are interested go find it now and watch it. Though be warned there are a lot of movies called the Black Cat. The one you are looking for is from 1941. If you proceed and feel I’ve ruined the movie for you… well you were warned.
I’ve always enjoyed the Black Cat. The story is solid and has several neat twists that keep things interesting. The cats, specifically the black one, and all the lore surrounding them is creepy. The idea if the black cat is following you it indicates that you will soon die adds a nice foreboding touch. The fact that the housekeeper who inherits control of the estate until the cats die freaks out when the black cat keeps showing up makes for some fun. While Bela Lugosi doesn’t get a lot of screen time it is effective. He plays the handyman who seems to be lurking around all the time. He is made a suspect right away and Hubert keeps looking for him. Turns out he is a decent guy, but it doesn’t end well for him. Playing on the audience’s expectations because Lugosi always seemed to be the mad scientist or bad guy was a clever ploy. Sadly, it was later overused in many lesser movies by poverty row.
|No one did sets like old Hollywood. Amazing stuff!|
Lugosi isn’t the only familiar face. We also get to see a young Alan Ladd who shot this before he really started to hit it big. Also playing the scheming Montague is the great Basil Rathbone. This leads to one of the best lines in the movie when Montague decides he has figured it out and is telling everyone what is going on. To which the Hubert character responds, “he thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes.” You know because that is what Rathbone was best known for… Did I really have to explain that?
The sets for The Black Cat are excellent and almost as important as the characters themselves. The house is spooky and filled with hidden passages and secret panels. There is a gimmick with a built-in bench that spins around that works really well. But best of all is the crematorium and crypt that was built for the cats complete with an odd-looking statue. It features heavily in the plot, as well as the ending. Which I have to say is fairly gruesome for a movie from the ‘40s.
I get that a lot of horror fans don’t enjoy “old” movies like this. That is a damn shame because it has excellent production values and a great cast. There is a lot here to like and I would hope that everyone gives it a shot. Consider it recommended.
© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer
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