THE BLACK CAT (1941)
Article #1098 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2004
Posting Date: 8-14-2004
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Featuring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford
A family gathers for the reading of the will of a cat-loving old woman. Then the murders start…
When I first started reading books on horror movies, I remember being puzzled about plot descriptions and stills from Ulmer’s THE BLACK CAT (1934), as I remember the movie popping up on my local Creature Feature but the plot descriptions and stills never matched what I remembered. I eventually figured out that the reason for this was that I had never seen that movie at all; it was this later film of the same name that popped up locally, and this is the film I had seen.
In a sense, it is a waste of time comparing the two movies. Outside of their sharing the same title, the presence of Bela Lugosi in both, and the fact that each one came from Universal, they have really nothing in common. The earlier movie is one-of-a-kind, and has never really been repeated, whereas this one belongs to that most common of horror subgenres, the ‘old dark house’ mystery-comedy. It’s definitely a lesser movie than the earlier one, but for what it is, it’s not bad. For one thing, it has a surprisingly strong cast, with Basil Rathbone (wait for the Sherlock Holmes reference), Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi (as the red herring caretaker…or is he?), Gale Sondergaard, Gladys Cooper, Anne Gwynne and Alan Ladd. It also features Hugh Herbert as the comic-relief Mr. Penny, and if the name doesn’t ring a bell, his schtick will, since it was parodied many a time in early Warner Brothers cartoons. Actually, I thought Herbert made for one of the better comic reliefs I’ve seen in a movie like this; he’s an antique dealer who believes that antiques are more valuable if they’re damaged, so he runs around trying to make all the furniture in the house more valuable. Again, it’s not bad, but it really doesn’t add anything new to the genre.