By the 1940s Universal was becoming more and more convinced that the public no longer wanted horror movies. They wanted horror comedies, preferable with the supernatural elements eliminated. As a result the 1940s saw Universal produced some of the dullest B-movies ever made. Their 1941 The Black Cat was one of the worst.
The opening credits tell us the movie was suggested by Edgar Allan Poe’s story. In fact there is not a trace of Poe in this movie, apart from the title.
Henrietta Winslow is dying, but she’s not dying fast enough for her family’s liking. They are all gathered at her house, hoping that this time she really will die. To taunt them she reads her will to them, but she doesn’t tell them the final clause, the one that specifies that none of them will get their hands on her money until her housekeeper Abigail (Gale Sondergaard) dies. Until then the house will effectively belong to Abigail and to Henrietta’s vast collection of cats.
Other vultures have gathered as well. Real state agent Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford)and antique furniture dealer Mr Penny (Hugh Herbert) are also hoping for a share of the spoils. These two will provide some of the most cringe-inducingly unfunny comic relief in movie history. And unfortunately in The Black Cat there’s more comic relief than actual movie.
Pretty soon the first murder occurs. Although it’s difficult to imagine any viewer actually caring. There’s lot of pointless running about, secret passages are discovered, more murders occur, and there is no escape from the remorseless onslaught of feeble humour.
Basil Rathbone is completely wasted as the old lady’s greedy nephew Monty. Alan Ladd plays a supporting role in an entirely forgettable manner.
Bela Lugosi is there as well, in an insultingly insignificant minor role. No wonder that when Monogram offered him a contract he jumped at it. His Monogram movies weren’t great but they were better than this stinker and he got to play lead roles again.
Meanwhile the audience prays that the next murder victims will be Broderick Crawford and Hugh Herbert.
The 70-minute running time seems like an eternity. Finally, mercifully, the movie ends. I’ve already forgotten how it ended, all I know is that I’ve never been so relieved to see the end credits.
There’s not even any camp factor to make this one an entertaining bad movie. It’s just deadly dull.
The DVD presentation in the Univeral Horror: Classic Movie Archive boxed set is infinitely better than this film deserves. Picture quality is extremely good. This set includes five films. So far I’ve watched four of them, and a generally very disappointing experience it’s been.