THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Paramount Pictures, 1939. Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Gale Sondergaard, Elizabeth Patterson. Director: Elliott Nugent.

   The thing about a lot of locked room mysteries, particularly the kind that take place in spooky old houses out in the middle of nowhere, is that the resolution is often rushed and not nearly as thrilling as everything that came before it. That’s definitely the case in The Cat and the Canary, this 1939 horror comedy starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The real thrill in this fun-filled Paramount release begins with Hope’s arrival on screen and never really lets up until the very end, when there needs to be some form of resolution to effectively put an end to the proceedings.

   But what proceedings! Adapted from the theatrical play of the same name, The Cat and the Canary features Bob Hope at his wisecracking, self-deprecating prime. He portrays Wally Campbell, an actor and radio host who is summoned to the Louisiana bayou house of a deceased relative by the name of Cyrus Norman.

   Wally, along with a host of other surviving relatives, are to stay in the old mansion for the night and listen to an attorney, Mr. Crosby (George Zucco) read the old man’s will. As it turns out, Norman has left the house to the dashing Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard). But there’s a catch: if Joyce is to die or go mad, she will lose her inheritance.

   Enter the Cat, an escaped mental patient who seems to be lurking about in the area. It also doesn’t take Wally long to realize that the condition of the will is a perverse incentive for someone – another heir perhaps – to murder Joyce. Or at least drive her mad.

   And that’s exactly what starts to happen when Joyce begins to see Mr. Crosby disappear from her room. It’s up to Wally to save Joyce. The question is: from whom or from what? And who is the Cat? Finding out is a large part of the fun in this admittedly goofy but entertaining film that, despite being over seventy years old and filled with what would become horror film clichés, still feels exceedingly fresh.