The Cat And The Canary and The Ghost Breakers – Blu-Ray Review

The Cat And The Canary and The Ghost Breakers mark two of three team-ups between a youngish Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. At the time of these films you could probably make the case that Goddard was the bigger star, having been a Ziegfield girl, doing films like The Women and, of course, her relationship with Charles Chaplin. Goddard co-starred in two of his best, Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Goddard is sometimes referred to Chaplin’s wife, although whether they were ever legally married is still up for debate—in any case, she got a “Mexican divorce” from Chaplin in ‘42.

Bob Hope, of course, would go on to become one of the biggest showbiz figures in American history, crossing all media—although today I think you would probably struggle to find somebody under 40 to even know who he was today. Hope was fairly new to film when The Cat and The Canary and The Ghost Breakers came his way. He had only moved to Hollywood the year before, in 1938, after around a decade of doing vaudeville, Broadway and radio work in New York. These two films are kind of outliers in Hope’s filmography, because they are the only horror-tinged movies he ever did, he generally did very mainstream comedies. The “Road” series with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour are probably the films he is most connected with, outside of his cameo in Forrest Gump.

Both films are nothing special. They are “old dark house” stories, with just a bit of spookiness from felines, zombies of the Haitian kind, ghosts, etc. All pretty tame stuff, and Paulette Goddard runs absolute circles around Hope here. He is fine, but she is the real star of the films and she knows it. The Ghost Breakers is probably the better film—it has a little more spooky stuff, and as you must’ve have guessed, was an influence on Dan Ackroyd when he came up with Ghostbusters. Although it is considered dated—and that’s not just because of Black actor Willie Best’s jokes about fried chicken. Best was kind of a second-rate Stepin Fetchit, and was even known professionally as “Sleep n’ Eat.” He was also one of the first actors to have a big drug bust: his career was basically over after he got done for heroin in 1951.

The Cat and The Canary has more of a whodunit vibe, which might endear it more to modern audiences, especially since are in vogue again. It’s a fun picture, and very breezy at 74 minutes. While it’s nothing special, there are some fun lines about cats and all that good stuff.

Both films were remakes of silent versions—Cecil B. DeMille even did a version of The Ghost Breakers, which is now considered lost. I haven’t seen any of the silent versions, but I would suspect that Paul Leni’s 1927 version of The Cat and The Canary is the best of the other films. It’s interesting to see these early attempts at horror comedies that predate Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which is often considered the film that sets the template for merging the two genres.

The Blu-Ray includes both films on a single disc. They both around 80 minutes, give or take about five minutes. Each film includes commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby, and Kim Newman does his usual appreciations for both films. There is 1948 radio version of The Ghost Breakers and trailers for both films. The booklet includes new writing from Craig Ian Mann.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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