The Black Cat

As part of its cycle of horror films in the '30s and '40s, Universal Studios made two films with the title The Black Cat, each of which has as little in common with the other as they do with the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. (All three do, however, feature black cats.) A classicof the genre, 1934's The Black Cat is notable as the first pairing of Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff, as well as for its overwhelmingly dark atmosphere and story. With a few exceptions, by 1941, the studio was more content to coast on its reputation, recycling characters for sequel after sequel and releasing films that had the appearance of horror films, but were actually mysteries in disguise. While the latter is true of 1941's The Black Cat, it's still entertaining. The plot concerns the mystery surrounding the death of an eccentric, wealthy woman who has allowed her estate to become overrun with cats. Her creepy servants (who include an underused Lugosi) and greedy relatives (who include Basil Rathbone, vacationing from the Sherlock Holmes series) are subsequently caught up in the intrigue, suspecting one another even as they drop off one by one. The only people who seem capable of getting to the bottom of the intrigue are a real-estate broker and an antiques dealer (Broderick Crawford and Hugh Herbert, respectively), who form an impromptu bumbling-detective team. Fast-paced, well-cast, and atmospheric, The Black Cat is fairly minor, but it's still enjoyable, even if the only real mystery is how the titular black cat is capable of producing the exact same ominous "meow" repeatedly over the course of the film.

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