Kitty Kitty

The Black Cat looked familiar to 1941’s audience, post-Bob Hope’s The Cat and Canary. Both share similarities, along with old dark house cliches. In today’s media landscape, The Black Cat creates further redundancy.

Coming from Universal though, it’s self-observant. Where the studio spent the previous decade churning through horror films in elegant mansions, The Black Cat removes the fantasy monsters and instead tells of real world monsters – the rich.

The Winslow family gathers here only because their eldest is soon to die; they want to take those final days to suck up and land a spot in the will. Greed begets greed, and this snooty group is among the worst. Each member is miserable, phony, and pompous; they all hate one another. They have money, but no respect. No wonder the Draculas and Frankensteins come from places like this.

The Black Cat likely works better as a discount novel, but at 70-minutes, there’s little harm

Key to The Black Cat (and restating what’s stated elsewhere, there’s no relation to Universal’s previous The Black Cat in 1933) is humor, generated by outsiders. Where the Winslows bicker and blame one another, two antique appraisers end up as comic relief. It’s too much; the routine rapidly grows old, but carries enough mocking power to view these selfish types from a middle class viewpoint.

Without being subtle about it, Hugh Herbert and Broderick Crawford enact an Abbott & Costello routine. Black Cat hit just before the comedy duo took off at Universal, so that explains why they weren’t cast. Herbert and Crawford do fine, if gumming up the pace with their antics. Before the horror comedy formula was discovered, Black Cat feels like it’s chopped together with distinct sections. One part horror, two parts comedy, and don’t blend.

Underneath this all comes a pedestrian murder mystery, the studio whodunit with rain and lightning always in the background. Black Cat likely works better as a discount novel, but at 70-minutes, there’s little harm in settling in for chaos and mayhem, ‘40s style. Escapism is high, and watching Universal send themselves up is a break from the typical horror fetish. Do ignore Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi credited for marquee value – Black Cat is far divested from their typical work, much as they stay in line while everyone around them acts up. This is clearly the Herbert/Crawford show.

Video

Scream Factory does not provide technical details for this transfer. Based on the egregious grain, this is likely an interpositive, and maybe even a 16mm one. This material is so riddled with grain, the image breaks down when under the digital transfer. No encode can keep up with images like this, leading to not only artifacts, but swimming effects when characters move.

Not helping things, visible ringing indicates sharpening, however light. That’s the last thing this transfer needed. Being a high-contrast image (to a fault even), edges routinely show dark outlines around near-clipping highlights. Some black crush comes into play too, which works when lights go out, not so much in other spots.

Only minimal detail can fight its way through this mass. Details of this house (a notable Universal exterior) barely survive, while interiors hold enough to instill an uncomfortable vibe.

Audio

Stock scoring plays throughout, overcoming mild static running on the underside. A great horn section will drop into the low-end without trouble. Treble wobbles lightly, but no more than expected for a vintage offering.

Other than one line by Lugosi that even the subtitles can’t make out (partly owing to a thick accent), dialog echoes well on these sets. That adds the needed space.

Extras

A commentary from historian Gary D. Rhodes is joined by a small image gallery and trailer.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Black Cat (1941)
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Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi headline, but 1941’s The Black Cat is more a murder comedy routine starring Universal regular Hugh Herbert.

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