The Black Cat


1h 10m 1941

Brief Synopsis

Greedy heirs gather to wait for the death of Henrietta Winslow. Murder, thunder claps, howling cats, gun shots, screams in the night, hidden passages -- all the proper ingredients.

Film Details

Release Date
May 2, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 25 Apr 1941
Production Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the short story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe in United States Saturday Post (19 Aug 1843).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 10m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,317ft

Synopsis

The family of Henrietta Winslow gathers at her stately home, in anticipation of her seemingly imminent death. Thinking that the elderly woman has already passed away, real estate agent A. Gilmore "Gil" Smith and antique dealer Mr. Penny arrive at the Winslow estate, only to be refused entrance by gardener Eduardo and housekeeper Abigail Doone. While Gil and Penny watch from outside, the invalid Henrietta appears before her family to read her will. She bequeaths her niece, Myrna Hartley, $100,000, and Myrna's husband Montague and stepson Richard $10,000 each. She then gives her granddaughter, Margaret Gordon, and grandson, Stanley Grayville, $100,000 each, while leaving her home and the remainder of the estate to her favorite granddaughter, Elaine Winslow. Outside, Gil begins to cough because the horde of cats Henrietta has living on her estate have triggered his allergies, and thus discovered, he and Penny are invited into the house. An upset Henrietta realizes that Montague has sent for Gil to sell the estate, and she tells the real estate man that she will never sell. After Gil saves Henrietta's life when he realizes that her milk has been poisoned, she reveals the last, unread portion of her will: No one will get any money until Abigail, the guardian of the estate, has died. Henrietta is then murdered while cremating a poisoned cat. When a black cat suddenly appears, an hysterical Abigail tells Gil and Elaine that it symbolizes death. Convinced that Henrietta's death was accidental, the family gathers together in hopes of settling the estate, while Gil tries to convince Abigail that her life is in danger. The housekeeper orders the family to leave the estate, but they refuse and send Montague into town to seek legal representation. Richard, however, discovers his father is having an affair with Margaret and threatens to go to his beloved stepmother unless he leaves his mistress. Penny, meanwhile, finds an unconscious Abigail while searching for antiques. Gil and Elaine question the injured housekeeper, who finally begins to realize the threat on her life. That night, Gil tells the family that there must be secret passageways in the house that his hypothetical murderer must have used. After numerous false alarms throughout the night, Abigail is discovered hanged in her room, and Gil finally manages to prove that the housekeeper was murdered. Myrna is seemingly attacked in the same manner, but is saved by Gil, Montague and Richard. Believing him to be the killer, the men chase after Eduardo, who is then killed by Myrna. Later, Elaine accuses Myrna of the killings and of staging her own attack in order to gain her inheritance and thus keep her husband. Myrna knocks Elaine out, then hides her body in the closet just as the men return. As Myrna prepares to burn Elaine to death in the crematorium, Gil bursts in and saves her. The black cat then knocks over a candle, setting Myrna afire. With the murderer uncovered, Gil and Elaine are finally united, and she agrees to sell the estate.

Film Details

Release Date
May 2, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 25 Apr 1941
Production Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the short story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe in United States Saturday Post (19 Aug 1843).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 10m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,317ft

Quotes

Oh, then you're the guy that slugged me.
- Hubert Smith
Yeah, and I'll do it again any time you train down to my weight.
- Richard Hartley
That house is doubly blest, Which to our feline friends gives rest."
- Mr. Penny
Her hats are full of bats, For spending all her dough on cats."
- Hubert Smith

Trivia

Notes

Broderick Crawford's character is listed as "Hubert Smith" in the film's credits and many contemporary reviews, but he is clearly referred to as "A. Gilmore Smith" in the film and by the Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review. Similarly, the character played by John Eldredge, who is referred to as "Stanley Borden" in the onscreen credits, is clearly named "Stanley Grayville" in the film. While the onscreen credits list Hal Bumbaugh as the sound technician, Universal press materials credit William Schwartz in that position. According to Hollywood Reporter, actor Eldredge's scenes in the film were "rushed" so that the actor could take a featured role in another Universal film, Horror Island .
       News items indicate that actors Paul Cavanagh and Richard Carlson were cast in roles, but did not appear in the released film. Modern sources state that Carlson was cast in the "A. Gilmore Smith" role, but was later replaced by Broderick Crawford, while Cavanagh was replaced by Basil Rathbone in the role of "Montague Hartley." Modern sources indicate that the film was budgeted at $176,000, with shooting completed on March 10, 1941. The film contains a noted in-joke: when Basil Rathbone attempts to solve the mystery, Broderick Crawford turns to Anne Gwynne and asks, "Who does he think he is, Sherlock Holmes?" a clear reference to the actor's well-known film and radio portrayals of the English detective. Universal had previously used the Poe story as the inspiration for the 1934 picture The Black Cat, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0358). The two films, however, have minimal similarities.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1941

Released in United States on Video September 1, 1998

Released in United States 1941

Released in United States on Video September 1, 1998