It's a little bit cute, the things I get really excited about, dontcha think?
The set in question is a Universal three-disc piece, Thanks For The Memories, out early next month, featuring two titles that are new to DVD—Thanks For The Memory and Nothing But The Truth (the latter a sort of Ur-Liar, Liar). But 1939's The Cat and the Canary, an adaptation of the old-dark-house creaker pumped up with comedic touches by Hope and director Elliot Nugent, is, as far as I know, completely new to home video. I recall some rights issues—the film was the subject of an "Ask Glenn" question in Premiere that I was unable to definitively answer. I do recall that my quest at one point had me calling the offices of Richard Gordon, the producer of the Radley-Metzger-directed 1978 iteration of Cat among other genre/exploitation classics, and brother of Alex.
Things obviously got straightened out, because here it is, and the film is still a brisk, funny entertainment that casts Hope in his usual comic coward persona, but gives him just a trifle more backbone than usual in order to sell him as a romantic lead of sorts. (He got the girl in pictures more often than his stand-up self admitted, and it's hardly a spoiler to reveal that he does wind up with his spirited leading lady Paulette Goddard here. The third wheel in the screen capture above, incidentally, is Douglass Montgomery.) It is replete with excellent Hope comebacks. "Aren't you afraid of big, empty, houses?" "Not me. I used to work in vaudeville." Or, "Do you believe in reincarnation?" "Hmm?" "You know—that dead people come back?" "Like Republicans?"
Doesn't exactly leap off the printed page, I know, but it's the patented Hope delivery that sells it. Hope, as many of us know, remains a somewhat controversial figure even seven years after his death and who can say how many years after he was declared culturally irrelevant. Of course, Christopher Hitchens rather famously proclaimed upon Hope's death "Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us." God, what a douche, huh? Now allowing that humor is very subjective and all, and that there's sometimes a large gap between British and American sensibilities—remember that Kingsley Amis considered Groucho Marx to be as unfunny as Hitchens considers Hope to be (and yes, I am remembering that Hope was Britain-born, but stop, I'm getting a headache)—there is the matter that Hitchens is, again, a complete and utter douche. But more to the point, the early Hope is somewhat different from the Hope of the admittedly increasingly ghastly Vietnam appearances and NBC specials, for one thing. (And one of the greatest things about the impersonation of Hope that Dave Thomas essayed on SCTV was that, while it lampooned the older, stiffer, more traditionalist and rigid late version of the comedian, Thomas also deeply understood the elements that had established Hope as a bonafide comic genius and innovator.) For another, the Hope comic persona—the snarky sap, the fellow who's entirely upfront about his own lack of spinal fortitude but who can't resist swiping at others endlessly—represents a kind of humor that, for better or worse, doesn't speak very directly to what some might call "the contemporary sensibility." (Yes, I am evoking that other douche who put down The Searchers in the august pages of Slate.) SO it might be an acquired taste for some. When I was a kid I thought of Hope as being pretty out-of-it myself. Then a friend of mine screened the Hope-Crosby Road To Morocco for me. (He owned a 16mm print; this was the same fellow who showed me Cat and the Canary for the first time.) There's this bit after Hope's character has been cooed over by the harem girls, and he's sleeping quite soundly, and one of the girls has to wake him. In his sleep he mutters, "It's all right, Ma, I'll get a job tomorrow." That's what hooked me. And no, it wasn't solely because that was precisely the sort of thing I used to say to my own mother up until my mid-20s, thank you very much.
Another attraction of Cat in particular is that a production still from it features prominently in the seminal Carlos Clarens book An Illustrated History of Horror and Science FIction Film. Aside from being a hell of a writer, Clarens was a great memorabilia collector and photo editor, and each still he used in that book made the reader want to see the movie in question right now. (I still burn to find a way to view Seven Footprints to Satan!) The actual scene from Cat looks like this:
As you can see, I hope, from the screen caps,the transfer of this title is pretty handsome, so I'm quite looking forward to checking out the other stuff contained in the set. It's all sure to be very funny stuff. Not as funny, say, as Christopher Hitchens' legless defense of Ahmed Chalabi, I suppose, but hey, that's a different kind of funny, isn't it.