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The Black Cat (1941 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Black Cat
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlbert S. Rogell
Screenplay by
Based onThe Black Cat
by Edgar Allan Poe
CinematographyStanley Cortez[1]
Edited byTed Kent[1]
Distributed byUniversal Pictures Company, Inc.
Release date
  • 2 May 1941 (1941-05-02)
Running time
70 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2]

The Black Cat is a 1941 American comedy horror mystery film directed by Albert S. Rogell. Inspired by darkly comedic "old dark house" films of the era as well as the 1843 short story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe, the film stars Basil Rathbone as Montague Hartley, the head of a greedy family who await the death of Henrietta Winslow (played by Cecilia Loftus) so that they can inherit her fortune. When she is found murdered, an investigation begins into who might be the culprit. Alongside Rathbone and Loftus, the film's cast includes Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, and Bela Lugosi.

Initially set to start filming in January 1941, the film was delayed twice with the script being re-written by comedy writers Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo and having some last minute cast changes. It officially began filming on February 17 and finished filming on March 10. It was released to lukewarm reviews from The Hollywood Reporter, The Film Daily and The New York Daily News.[3]


Henrietta Winslow lives in an old mansion with many cats, caretaker Eduardo and her housekeeper Abigail. In the property's garden, there is a curious crematorium where the bodies of her dead cats end up, the ashes of which she collects and places in urns. One evening, the old lady receives her heirs to read her will to them.



In 1939, the production company Paramount Pictures had a hit film in 1939 with their version of The Cat and the Canary, a film featuring an "old dark house" setting that was laced with humor with comedy star Bob Hope.[4] Universal followed this film with an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat".[4] recycling the story to fit the mold of The Cat and the Canary.[4] Screenwriters Eric Taylor and Robert Neville were hired to produced the script.[4] Associate producer Burt Kelly brought in new writers on the film as he had done previously with The Invisible Woman, bringing in the writers of Hold That Ghost (Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo) to work on the script.[4]

The film was initially given a $176,000 budget with director Albert S. Rogell signing on to direct on January 22, 1941, five days before production was set to start.[4] Production delays halted the beginning of the production until February 24.[4] Several cast members were changed at last minute before filming began, including Paul Cavanagh as Montague Hartley which went to Basil Rathbone.[4] Production started on February 17 and finished on March 10.[4]


The Black Cat was released by Universal Pictures on May 2, 1941.[1][2] The authors of the books Universal Horrors noted that the film was marketed in advertising and trailers as an all-out horror film, despite its overt comedic tone.[3] The Black Cat was re-released theatrically after Paramount's success with This Gun for Hire in 1942 which also featured Alan Ladd.[3] Following the release of the film, Rathbone was to be teamed with the writers Lees and Rinaldo for one more project in an Abbott and Costello comedy titled By Candlelight which did not go into development.[3]

The Black Cat was distributed on blu ray by Shout! Factory on December 17, 2019.[5] It was released as the third volume of their "Universal Horror Collection" which included Tower of London, Man-Made Monster and Horror Island.[5]


"I hated doing the thing. It was beneath me"

Gale Sondergaard on The Black Cat.[4]

From contemporary reviews, an anonymous reviewer in The Hollywood Reporter noted that Al Rogell directed the film "with a keen eye towards giving all possible comedy in the piece, and he misses no trick in underscoring the laughs".[3] The Film Daily noted the direction and screenplay as good and that "the cast is fine, the horror element in the story is sufficient."[3] One Harrison's Reports reviewer found the film was "somewhat slow in getting started; as a matter of fact, it is not until the closing scenes where the murderer's identity becomes known and the heroine's life is endangered that the action is really exciting."[3]

From retrospective reviews, the authors of the book Universal Horrors stated that the primary interest in the film how it was "squandering a fine cast and the considerable skills of a top technical crew on bottom-drawer material. That such a patchwork script ever made it out of the story department in the first place to become the most polished genre piece Universal produced in 1941 (including The Wolf Man) is amazing."[6][7] Hal Erickson of AllMovie declared the film as "Hardly one of the classic Universal horror efforts" noting its primary interest was "the advantage of some spook camerawork, courtesy of Stanley Cortez."[8]



  1. ^ a b c d e Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 250.
  2. ^ a b c "The Black Cat (1941)". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 255.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 251.
  5. ^ a b "Universal Horror Collection: Vol. 3". Shout! Factory. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  6. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 252.
  7. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 253.
  8. ^ Erickson.


External links

This page was last edited on 24 October 2021, at 22:10
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