Have you ever seen a film that was very different from what you expected? That happened to me with this film as I just expected a completely different plot and the whole film was as radically different as any I’ve ever seen. Luckily, this was in a good way! As much as a horror film about a Black Cat knocking everyone would have been entertaining, a classic “Who Did It” murder mystery is infinitely better. Aside from one mistake, the film does quite well, but it is unfortunately a big mistake!
An old lady is near death so her family members quickly head to her mansion so that they can pick up their inheritance. If they don’t like what they receive, they are prepared to attack her if necessary. Luckily, they all receive a decent amount of money so they are pleased, but the lady announces that this only comes to pass once her maid is dead as the cats need to be taken care of. One of the family members doesn’t like this and quickly stabs her. With the old lady out of the way, the main characters must figure out who did it as the body count will only rise from here!
One difference in this film compared to the average murder mystery is that the body count isn’t actually that high. The suspense is mostly grabbed by near deaths and the ominous feeling that someone is always watching you. Also, it isn’t played completely serious as it is part comedy. Similar to another murder mystery film that I saw a while back, whose title escapes me. The light tone with the classic mystery make for a winning formula in terms of how interesting the film is.
As this film came out in the very early 1940’s, you can expect that the writing is quite good as well. That makes all the difference in any mystery title and I can almost certainly guarantee that a modern version would not be nearly as good in this area. Whether it be the subtle threats or the not to subtle ones, you just don’t see dialogue like this nowadays. The film is a little on the short side, but there’s still enough time to flesh out the characters and not have a rushed ending.
The film does a good job of making everyone look a little suspicious. There’s the main character who really reminded me of Bill Murray from Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. Seriously, the guy looks almost identical to him complete with the voice and a similar role. He was definitely one of the best parts of the film and I’d say that he earned the role of best character. As he’s the main character, most of what we see is from his side of the story, but you can never discount the lead as they sometimes don’t tell you everything. I was rooting for him to close the deal though!
The main character’s friend is here to break things to make them more valuable in the future. He’s extremely scatter brained to the point where he can never follow a sentence and it takes him hours to realize what people knew in seconds. He was a fun character as he constantly trolled the rest of the cast and found the secret passages before anyone else. He was in danger many times, but the good part about being oblivious is that fear won’t slow you down! Naturally, he’s suspicious because you have to wonder if it is all truly an act.
Next up, we have the family of three. There’s the step son who threatens his step father several times not to break his mother’s heart as he knows that the guy is cheating with someone else. Considering the threats and how much the money would help him, it’s obvious why this guy is a suspect. Likewise, if the father is willing to cheat on his elderly wife, we don’t know what he is capable of! He definitely wants the money from the will as he constantly yells about it. Maybe he wants it for sinister purposes!
His elderly wife is always in the background and prefers to let everyone else to the talking. She keeps up the pretense of liking the old lady even though everyone else constantly insults her and just waits for her inheritance. Is it possible that she actually cares or is she just playing along to throw away suspicion from herself? There’s the main heroine who believes that no murders took place and that her family are still decent people deep down who wouldn’t cross this line. She tries to distract the main character from this train of thought several times. Is it possible that she is right or does she just want us to think that?
Rounding up the list of suspects are out final members. We have the maid who threatened that the heroes would leave the house one way or the other. Wow, that’s pretty ominous right? A bit obvious, but perhaps that’s the point to lower our guard! There’s also the grounds servant, Eduwardo. He is always listening and watching from outside and he has free reign over the place. He would certainly have the time to commit the acts and the motive as well since he received almost nothing from the will in the end. Finally, we have the old lady. Maybe she cheated death somehow by using a fake poison right?
So, we definitely have a lot of suspects. I’m glad to say that the film doesn’t cheat with the final verdict. The culprit does have a good motive and was one of the suspects so that was good. Cop outs are the one thing that you don’t want in a mystery film! The opening of the film reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. The mask party one where the relatives all wanted the old man to die and ultimately had their true faces exposed to everyone. The opening was definitely similar and I wouldn’t be surprised if one borrowed from the other.
This film would have been an easy 7, but there was one big mistake, which really hurt it. Unfortunately, one of the cats is poisoned and died. That was a really low blow and it definitely hurt the film. At least the cat wasn’t injured as that would have been even worse, but the death still ensured that I wouldn’t be giving this film any higher than a 5. It’s just hard to recommend a film with animal violence like this at times. For a show that has over 200 episodes or a long series like that, it’s much easier, but a single film….it’s just not happening. This was the one big mistake that the film made, but boy was it a big one!
The romance angle was surprisingly nonexistent for the most part. Of course, we have the main character and heroine who are polite to each other, but it never goes anywhere which is nice and realistic. There’s also the cheating subplot, but it also doesn’t really go anywhere. I’d say that this is a good thing as those plots weren’t needed to make the film be enjoyable anyway. As it stands, most of the character personalities were enjoyable, which really helped the film.
Overall, The Black Cat was much better than I anticipated. The score was lower due to the animal violence, but otherwise it was essentially the ideal mystery. It’s short, but there are no cop outs and the writing as done quite well. The film was pretty funny without going over the top in the comedy aspect. It wasn’t much of a problem back in the day though as the humor was almost always great or you would just miss the joke, but we never saw the kind of jokes that you see in something like Pixels. The horror aspects were also handled well as you would see an ominous hand reach out to take someone down or someone’s frightened expression as they realized that they were doomed. From the classics, this one easily takes down Frankenstein and Dracula without a doubt! In pure entertainment value, this would probably beat all of the other Universal classics.