"No, that's not it," said Sosumi Jimmy Jango, Zombos' lawyer. He continued to search his memory while pulling yet another paper from his briefcase.
We were sitting in the library, waiting for Jimmy to shuffle through a few more papers before he read Uncle Hiram's will. After twenty years gathering dust in Zombos' Irish tin box, it was time to finally reveal old Hiram's wishes. He passed away while moose hunting. The annoyed moose helped him on his journey. Seated around the table were Zombos, myself, and Zombos' furthest relative from Nova Scotia, Clorinda. Billy Bounce Boukowski and Jeremy Singleton, more distant relatives on this side of the pond, were also in attendance. Glenor Glenda served drinks all around.
"Glad to see everyone could make it," said Jimmy, reaching deeper into his briefcase. "I got it!"
"The will?" asked Zombos with much hope in his voice. He was getting tired of sitting so close to his distant relatives. I never could get him to explain their names or lineage.
"No, the movie this all reminds me of," said Jimmy. "The Cat and the Canary, the 1927 version. It starts off with an old geezer's will being read after twenty years, too."
"I know that one," I said. "The geezer was Cyrus West, and his relatives are summoned to his old dark mansion, overlooking the Hudson River, by the family lawyer Roger Crosby, twenty years after his death for the reading of his will. He and Uncle Hiram must have been twins."
"On a dark and stormy night," added Jimmy, chuckling. "Just like tonight." We looked at the rain drops splashing against the library's windows when he said it.
"So, what happens?" asked Billy Bounce. His gruff voice punctuated the Bounce part of his name really well. He tipped his third Jack Daniel's, daintily held in the baseball glove he had for a hand, over and down in one gulp.
"It is a silent movie directed by Paul Leni, a German Expressionistic director, whose talents included blending humor with his stylish melodramatic horror," said Zombos.
Billy smiled. "Sounds like an oxymoronic, don't it? Funny horror?"
"It does," I replied. "But Leni's movie provided the creative template--hairy arms reaching through secret panels and around doorways, sliding bookcases leading to secret passages, upright bodies stuffed in closets flopping down when you open the door, sinister housekeepers, spooky mansions--stuff like that was recycled in the old dark house movies that followed, and it provided much comedy fodder for Abbott and Costello, too."
"Hold That Ghost!" piped up Jeremy. "I love that movie. Keeping the money in the moose's head. Hilarious."
"Oh, and Laura La Plante is so marvelous in it." Glenor spilled a drink as she spoke. "I wish I'd inherit a vast fortune like hers."
"When you do, let me know so I can send you the dry cleaning bill," said Zombos dryly, grabbing a napkin to daub off the wet stain on his jacket.
"Whose Laura La Plante?" asked Clorinda.
"She plays Cyrus West's most distant relative, Annabelle," answered Jimmy. "Anabelle's the looker who winds up getting all of West's inheritance if she can prove she's sane enough to keep it. Of course, the trick is to make her go loopy during the night so the next in line will get the money. An escaped homicidal lunatic from a nearby asylum--he's called the Cat-- is on the prowl, too, spicing things up."
"So who's the guy who saves the dame?" asked Billy. "There's always some guy around to save rich dames in movies, am I right?"
"Right you are," I said. "That would be Paul, played by Creighton Hale in glasses and with much chagrin. He's not much of a hero type. Skittish from his own shadow, really. Being a woman in a 1920's movie, Annabelle can only be rescued by her potential suitor, of course. I mean, woman weren't expected to be unmarried with vast fortunes pending and all that. Paul provides the comedy relief, but eventually succeeds in subduing the killer and winning the rich dame's hand."
"I'm not sure I'd want to immediately get married if I inherited a fortune," said Clorinda. "I mean, why spoil the fun of all that solitary spenditure."
"I don't know, but so far it doesn't sound too scary," said Billy.
"Well, of course in its day I'm sure it had enough fright per frame to make it the box office success it was, but Leni directed it more for black humor." I took my White Russian from Glenor's serving tray and took a sip before continuing. "Still, his sharp direction keeps the horror elements moving briskly through the cobwebs and gloom. His eye glides past long hallways filled with billowing curtains in front of opened windows, it plays with each relative’s sinister potential for thwarting Annabelle's inheritance with its expressive close-ups, and it goes beyond verisimilitude as emotionally charged superimpositions coalesce into dramatic scenes. I would have loved to see his camerawork unleashed in Browning's Dracula."
Jeremy, Billy Bounce, Jimmy, and Clorinda looked at me.
"Superimpositions," interjected Zombos, "are images put on top of other images."
"Oh, I get it," said Jimmy. "You mean like the towering medicine bottles that slowly turn into the mansion's ominous silhouette, or the image of the grandfather clock's gears striking midnight over the scene of the reading of the will, as everyone is gathered around the table in the library."
"Right," I said. The Hermle Grandfather clock in the west hallway starting chiming the twelfth hour.
"Ooh, that gives me goosebumps," said Glenor shivering.
"Speaking of goosebumps, that creepy housekeeper, Mammy Pleasant--love that name--played intensely by Martha Mattox, provided the role model for sinister butlers and maids in subsequent movies," I said. "She reminds me of that other creepy housekeeper in Robert Wise's The Haunting, trying to scare everybody with talk of ghosts and such. Of course, being the only person in the mansion for twenty years, it's no wonder she's a bit nipped around the buds."
"Now this is odd," said Jimmy, holding up two envelopes. "I only remember one envelope from your Uncle Hiram, not two. That's funny. This is exactly what happened in the movie. The killer slipped in the second envelope into the wall safe just before the reading of the will. It named the next relative in line for the inheritance should Annabelle not last the night."
"Killer?" asked Billy Bounce. Glenore had given up on refilling his glass and just left the bottle of Jack Daniels with him. "What killer?"
"Well, in the movie, the lawyer Roger Crosby is murdered. It's his body that eventually winds up doing a pratfall from Annabelle's closet. So the movie turns into a whodunit when that happens." Jimmy cleared his throat. "Umm...well. I'll figure this out soon enough. Zombos, where's the checklist I left you? I want to see if I recorded this second envelope twenty years ago."
"Over in the Irish tin biscuit box, by the bookcase there," pointed Zombos. Jimmy stood up, stretched, and walked over to the bookcase.
"The intertitles are lots of fun to read, too." I added. "Nice transitions are used for the text to create a spooky effect here and there. The opening title credits appear as a hand wipes away the cobwebs covering them. For a silent movie it all moves pretty briskly as Leni's gliding, ever inquisitive camera keeps the mood gloomy and spooky, and us in the middle of the mystery. It's a testament to the movie's novelty that it's been remade five times."
"Speaking of time, I say, Jimmy, did you find the checklist? Jimmy?" Zombos looked over to the bookcase. We followed his gaze. "Now where the deuce has he gotten to? Did anyone see him leave the room?
"I'll go check the closets," I said jokingly. No one laughed.
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