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The Cat and the Canary
Directed by Elliott Nugent
Produced by Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Written by Walter de Leon
Lynn Starling
Play Author:
John Willard
Starring Bob Hope
Paulette Goddard
John Beal
Douglass Montgomery
Gale Sondergaard
Music by Ernst Toch
Cinematography Charles B. Lang
Editing by Archie Marshek
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) 1939
Running time 72 min.
Country  United States
Language English

The Cat and the Canary is a 1939 comedy horror film remake of the 1927 film The Cat and the Canary, which was based on the 1922 play by John Willard. The film is directed by Elliott Nugent and stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. Universal Studios, which produced the 1927 film, acquired the rights to this version after merging with MCA in 1962. MCA, had in turn bought this film (along with most other pre-1950 Paramount sound features) in 1957, with their subsidiary, EMKA, Ltd., holding the copyright.



Cyrus Norman was a millionaire who lived in the Louisiana bayous with his mistress Miss Lu (Sondergaard). Norman died ten years before the film's opening scene, in which a Native American man (Regas) paddles Mr. Crosby (Zucco), the executor of Norman's estate, through alligator-infested waters to Norman's isolated mansion, where his will is to be read at midnight. At the mansion, Crosby meets Miss Lu, who lives there with a large black cat. When he removes the will from a safe, he discovers that someone has tampered with it.

Crosby and Miss Lu are joined by Norman's survivors: Joyce Norman (Goddard), Fred Blythe (Beal), Charles Wilder (Montgomery), Cicily (Westman), Aunt Susan (Patterson), and Wally Campbell (Hope). As the group gathers in the parlor to read the will, an unseen gong rings seven times. According to Miss Lu, this means that only seven of the eight people present will survive the night.

Norman's will has two parts. The first indicates that Joyce will inherit the entire estate, under one condition: Concerned about a streak of insanity in the family's blood, Norman stipulated that his heirs must remain sane for the next 30 days. If Joyce loses her sanity during that time, the heir will be determined from the second part of the will. This arrangement raises concerns about Joyce's safety, since other family members can increase their chances of inheriting by murdering her or driving her insane.

After the reading, Crosby informs everyone that they will have to stay overnight; Miss Lu warns them of spirits in the house; and a security guard found prowling outside claims that a murderer called "The Cat" has escaped from the nearby insane asylum. In the parlor, Crosby tries to warn Joyce about something, but a hidden doorway opens in the wall and someone pulls him into the space behind it. Joyce becomes frightened when everyone except Wally believes she imagined this.

Amid suspicion and accusations, Miss Lu gives Joyce a letter from Norman that Joyce and Wally use to find a diamond necklace. Joyce puts the necklace under her pillow in Norman's room, but after she falls asleep, a hand reaches out from the wall, terrifies her, and takes the necklace. At this point, Joyce is almost out of her mind with fear and confusion, but Wally finds a movable wall panel near her bed and opens a hidden door leading to a secret passageway. Crosby's dead body falls out from behind the door.

To help Joyce recover from her fright, Wally chats with her in the parlor. When he leaves to fetch some liquor, he hears something in Norman's room, opens the hidden door, and explores the passageway. Meanwhile, Joyce sees the door in the parlor as it opens. When Wally calls to her, she hears him through the passageway and enters it to find him. Once she is inside, someone closes the door.

With no exit, Joyce explores the passageway, walking past a dark cranny where the security guard is hiding. The Cat also walks past the guard, who stops him and takes the necklace from him, but the Cat stabs the guard in the back and follows Joyce, who has discovered a door leading outside. After the Cat chases Joyce into a shed and threatens her with a knife, Wally arrives and calls him "Charlie", having found the second part of the will in Charles's coat. Charles removes his Cat mask, pins Wally to the wall with his knife, and begins to strangle Joyce, but Miss Lu arrives with a shotgun and kills him. The next day, Wally and Joyce explain the story to newspaper reporters and unofficially announce their engagement.


  • Bob Hope as Wally Campbell, a wise-cracking actor who knew Joyce in high school and whom Fred calls "the original flutterbrain"
  • Paulette Goddard as Joyce Norman, a sketch artist, the last living family member carrying the Norman name
  • John Beal as Fred Blythe, a sullen man who is romantically interested in Joyce
  • Douglass Montgomery as Charles Wilder, a charming, attractive man who wishes to resume a previous relationship with Joyce
  • Gale Sondergaard as Miss Lu, an attractive but spooky Creole woman who was Norman's mistress and housekeeper
  • Elizabeth Patterson as Aunt Susan, an older woman who was once close to Norman
  • George Zucco as Mr. Crosby, a lawyer, executor of Norman's estate
  • Nydia Westman as Cicily, an excitable young woman who reveres Wally
  • John Wray as Guard Hendricks
  • George Regas as Indian guide


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