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Black Cat, The

118 minutes
adventure, comedy, horror

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This entry created 16 October 2016. Last revised on 16 October 2016.

2,752 hits since 26 Oct 2019
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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Black Cat, The

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star no star no star (4.66)

It's a bit confusing, because not only are there several movies with the same name, but two of them star Bela Lugosi! laugh

This is the second Bela Lugosi The Black Cat movie, made in 1941, and it belongs to a genre that was popular at the time – the horror/comedy/whodunit. The viewer is left to ask: Is there really something supernatural going on, or is this a mystery? And the comedy angle keeps things light and entertaining (in theory).

The set-up: Henrietta Winslow is a wealthy widow who lives in her mansion, along with her servants… and her cats! She even has a crematorium next door just for the cats. The relatives have gathered because they think Henrietta's health is failing… but surprise, she makes a complete recovery, then reads part of her will to the assembled family.

(Henrietta is played by Cecilia Loftus, who was only in her early 60s, but does a great job in the role. Sadly, she died only a few years later. She apparently made a career out of playing old ladies.)

The relatives are mostly a bunch of unsympathetic characters, including conniving Montague Hartley (Basil Rathbone) and his wife Myrna Hartley (Gladys Cooper) and step-son Richard Hartley (Alan Ladd); duplicitous Margaret Gordon (Claire Dodd); not-too-bright Stanley Borden (John Eldredge); and lovely Elaine Winslow (played by future WWII pin-up girl Anne Gwynne). Plus there's the sinister housekeeper Abigail Doone (luscious Gale Sondergaard) and the suspicious-looking groundskeeper Eduardo Vigos (Bela Lugosi).

And then on top of all this, one of the relatives has jumped the gun and called a real-estate agent, well-known local Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford in his younger days, sort of a combo of leading man and comic bumbler); and he brings with him an antiques dealer named Mr. Penny (played by Hugh Hubert, a popular comic of the day who bumbles around a lot and says hoo-hoo-hoo).

Pretty soon, poor old Henrietta is found dead – was it an accident, or murder? And why does a black cat suddenly appear? Everyone suspects everyone else, the house has hidden passageways, and lots of characters die! The ending has a nice twist.

The movie is brisk and entertaining, the ensemble cast is excellent, Hugh Hubert will probably get on your nerves (hoo-hoo-hoo), Anne Gwynne is great and I wish she had made more movies like this, Basil is slimy, Brod makes a charming buffoon that you want to root for, and I've fallen in love with Gale Sondergaard (she's wonderful as the housekeeper, and the baggy uniform can't hide her statuesque figure).

I liked the movie. I'd even watch it again. Lots of fun.