(Paul Leni, US 1927, 108 min., DCP)
Paul Leni came from Germany to work for Universal in 1927 and was essentially the founder of the studio’s reputation for horror films, starting with this iconic adaptation of John Willard’s hugely popular “old dark house” play The Cat and the Canary (which, surprisingly, still gets an occasional outing on the stage even today). Leni gave Willard’s relatively straightforward scare-stuff a strong sense of the unreal and eerie, investing it with a creepiness amounting to near-perversity. This is the film that started it all: relatives gathering in a ghostly house to hear a will read, sinister servants, billowing curtains in empty corridors, vanishing bodies replaced by reappearing corpses, horrible faces appearing unexpectedly, comic relief to “take the edge off” (it doesn’t), and a beautiful heroine (Laura La Plante) at the center of it all whose fate hangs in uneasy balance. The film is created with Leni’s darkly imaginative style and Gilbert Warrenton’s fluid cinematography. There are pleasurable chills aplenty to be had here.
Restored by The Museum of Modern Art with support from the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation.
Live piano accompaniment by Dr. Philip Carli.
Upcoming Events in this Series
Silent Tuesdays This night of Douglas Fairbanks and Allan Dwan films begins with The Good Bad Man, in which Fairbanks plays the cheerful and aimless outlaw “Passin’ Through,” whose holdups include robbing a train conductor of his ticket puncher and stealing food from the town store only to give it to a friendless orphan.