I can’t believe anybody in this age could still be superstitious about black cats. As somebody who has lived with four of them so far in the course of my life, I have experienced first-hand how loving and beautiful they can be. Also, regarding my convoluted writing in that previous sentence: you can’t own a cat, you can only live with one.
As Kim Newman points out in a bonus feature interview on the Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray, 1946’s The Cat Creeps caps a long tradition of black cats being an element of horror films. One thing that distinguishes this movie is it is the only time I have seen a cat allegedly possessed by the spirit of its murdered owner.
According the daughter of the deceased woman, the cat will identify the killer. This leads to such bizarre moments as a woman freaking out as another holds the cat limply before her: “Just stop pointing that cat at me!” That is some overwhelming ailurophobia.
The movie begins with a newspaper reporter (Frederick Brady) receiving an assignment to investigate a candidate for senate. This assignment comes directly from the editor, whose brother (Arthur Loft) just happens to be the opposing candidate in the election.
The accusation against the other candidate (Jonathan Hale) is that he is responsible for a murder that happened 15 years prior. Brady immediately goes to Hale to let him know the accusations, as he hopes to have him as his father-in-law one day.
Lois Collier plays Hale’s daughter. I don’t recall ever having seen her in anything before, but she’s OK here. Admittedly, it isn’t a role that would strain any actor.
The bulk of the movie will have the fairly large cast congregate in a dark old house. Honestly, I was never entirely sure about what was going or even who some of the people are. That’s pretty strange given this is not even a full hour long.
Among the characters are Noah Berry, Jr., as Brady’s camera man and comic sparring partner. There’s also Brady’s potential future spouse and her father. There’s a private detective. There’s an old woman who seems to serve no purpose except to die early on. Also, there’s her daughter, who is only here to convince the others the cat is possessed by the spirit of her deceased mother. There are a couple of other characters I couldn’t think of a good reason why they would be there: a male detective and that woman who is terrified of cats.
When our main group of characters arrives at the house, they see a light come on in an upstairs window. Despite this, they proceed to break into the house. I have no idea why they did this. Seems like the leading candidates for an election only two days away are unconcerned about the possible negative publicity that would result from an arrest for a breaking and entering.
I’m not even sure of the reason why each of these people came to the house at all. In addition to the murder mystery, there’s supposed to be two hundred thousand dollars hidden in the place. I’m surprised the writers didn’t also throw in the Maltese Falcon, the Ark of the Covenant and the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Aside from being a mess, this is an odd, yet highly entertaining, picture. The dialog consistently has a zing to it, even if the characters don’t appear clever enough to be saying such things. Some examples: “Terry, you’re only saying that because it’s true” and “He sleeps with one eye open. He can’t even trust himself”.
There’s also a moment I liked where Brady tries to trick the killer by saying somebody should go get a doctor. He expects one of three men to seize the opportunity, except all three volunteer. “I thought one of you would tip your hand. You can’t all be guilty.”
The Cat Creeps is obviously a cheap programmer created solely to occupy the second slot on a double bill. But it is a good time, if you turn your brain off and just go with it. Besides, there is a beautiful black cat that is really the star here. There’s a reason one character quips, “Everybody seems more interested in the cat than the murderer.”
Dir: Erle C. Kenton
Starring Paul Kelly, Noah Beery, Jr., Lois Collier
Watched on Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray