The film derives its title from a classic Edgar Allan Poe short story, but its usage should be held lightly as it’s a far cry from its inspiration, only vaguely connected via said black cat who mysteriously arrives when a dead body is found.
Having traversed through the early Universal horror films and into the 1940s, it becomes apparent the strikingly familiar storyline that is at its helm, primarily based on The Old Dark House, which had been a winning formula for the giant film production house.
The trouble is, this feels all too stale and tired in comparison to its predecessors that I felt beyond caring for the characters plight and you just long for Tim Curry to prop up and “camp” his way through a whodunnit spiel, just to spice things up a bit.
Instead we’re faced with a couple of bungling sleuths in the guise of antique dealers, there to praise the value of some of the elderly Henrietta Winslow’s estate. Henrietta is aware that she is to bequeath her fortune to a greedy family, so she writes up a will against their knowledge with a caveat stating that they will not be able to lay their hands on her money, until her housekeeper Abigail and her many cats have died.
Cue the death of Henrietta, the reveal of her will, and then a pursuit of Abigail from a mysterious assailant, leaving the two antique dealers to try and solve the murder before the night is through and to prevent a higher body count.
The Black Cat boasts an incredible cast in Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert (who admittedly is slightly annoying with his comic relief), Broderick Crawford, Anne Gwynne, the brilliantly melodramatic Gale Sondegaard, a young Alan Ladd (“Shane!”) and a criminally underused Bela Lugosi as the ‘red herring’ character. So it’s a shame then that this is a massive misfire and never utilises the talent on display with essentially an incredibly poor script that tries to rest on intrigue and a narrative template.
It lacks substance and therefore the likes of Rathbone simply have nothing to play with on screen and the comedy moments just doesn’t connect, leaving the whole debacle feeling flat.
- Saul Muerte