THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Grenadier, 1978. Honor Blackman, Michael Callan, Edward Fox, Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, Betrix Lehmann, Carol Lynley, Daniel Massey, Peter McEnery, AND Wilfrid Hyde-White. Produced by Richard Gordon. Written & directed by Radley Metzger.

   Apparently you can’t go wrong with this title. The original 1927 film is a classic of silent era style and wit; the 1938 version offers a great cast and a star-making turn by Bob Hope; and this version, made by soft-core maven Meztger, has wit, color, and a cast of mostly one-shots and has-beens, shining in the kind of parts they weren’t used to getting.

   TIME OUT: Let me emphasize that the cast is only MOSTLY moth-eaten. Actually, many of them distinguished themselves on the stage, some went on to do interesting work in and out of the movies, and lovable old Wilfrid Hyde-White was always in a world of his own. But the fact is that when this movie was made, there wasn’t enough Hollywood star power between them to light up an “EXIT” sign.

   Yet they are consistently excellent here. Honor Blackman does a perfect Queen Bitch, paired up with Olivia Hussey as her submissive partner. Daniel Massey and Peter McEnery play vigorously off each other as bickering relatives. As the Doctor from the local Insane Asylum, Edward Fox acts nasty enough to make one suspect that the sobriquet “head shrinker” might be literal in his case, while Wendy Hiller and Beatrix Lehmann skulk about in the background as Shady Lawyer and Sinister Housekeeper.

   All of whom are gracefully counterbalanced by Carol Lynley and Michael Callan as the Young Lovers of the piece: She a frightened but sensible heiress; he a hack song-writer, ruefully aware of his insignificance in the scheme of things, but ready to roll the dice with a hostile universe.

   And then there’s Wilfrid Hyde-White as dead Uncle Cyrus, whose presence in the story is a clever ploy, handed off to an actor who carries it charmingly.

   I can attribute the presence of all this talent to Producer/Old-Movie-Buff Richard Gordon, but credit for their classy playing in well-written parts must go to writer-director Radley Metzger, whose stylish porno movies and erotic films of the 60s and 70s are reflected in the elegance of this, his only PG-rated effort. And some day I’d like to hear how he got the job.

   Just in case anyone still wonders what The Cat and the Canary is all about, it has to do with greedy relatives gathered for the reading of the last will & testament of their rich uncle Cyrus. And what happens when they find only one of them will inherit. And what happens when they find out that the putative heiress may be “disqualified.” And what happens when a Homicidal Maniac escapes from a nearby Madhouse. And one damn thing after another.

   That’s what the story’s about. The film is about style, pace, polish and wit, and how they can burnish an old gem like this into a real delight.