The Curse Of The Cat People (1944)

NOVEMBER 10, 2011


I know I said Cat People was barely horror, but it’s Dawn Of The Dead compared to The Curse Of The Cat People, which has no cat people, but MIGHT have a very benevolent ghost, depending on your interpretation (keeping with the original, Val Lewton kept the more “horrific” elements up for debate). Even the “Lewton Walk” scare scene is incredibly brief and timid, with only the fact that it centers around a child giving it any sort of suspense – if it was Jane Randolph again it wouldn’t even qualify.

It’s also not as interesting. Even with the horror elements kept to a minimum in the original, I still enjoyed the sad love triangle at its center, and dug the (subdued) “curse” plot that ran throughout, starting with the strange woman who appeared at Ilena and Ollie’s wedding. There was a minor mystery there, hints at something quite unique and strange – but those elements don’t really play a part in this one. The closest they get to something along the same lines is a mother-daughter pair who live a few houses down from the Reed family. The mother is an elderly ex-actress who believes her daughter is an impostor, something that I bought because the actress was in Cat People! She played the aforementioned mystery woman at the wedding in the original, and I spent most of the movie assuming that we weren’t supposed to make the connection and it would be “revealed” later. But as the movie neared its conclusion and it became obvious that it was just a really odd casting decision, I realized that I had subconsciously given this movie more of a plot than it actually had.

Because really all there is to it is the story of Ollie and Alice’s daughter, Amy, who is “troubled” in that she believes in fairies and such, and ruins her own birthday party by dropping the invitations in a “magic mailbox” (a hole in a tree). So of course when she sees the ghost of Ilena no one believes her, but when you consider that the ghost doesn’t DO anything (if Ilena was out to get revenge on Ollie for dumping her for Alice, maybe…), coupled with Lewton’s insistence on leaving it vague, it certainly doesn’t provide enough tension or even curiosity to sustain a feature film, even one that’s only 70 minutes long. Amy sees a ghost and… the ghost is nice to her. Near the end she “saves” Amy from the vaguest danger ever seen in a movie, and that’s pretty much it.

Hell, Lewton and returning screenwriter Dewitt Bodeen even go out of their way to introduce potential scary/interesting stuff, only to drop it. The characters now live in the town of Sleepy Hollow, and the “Headless Horseman” story gets mentioned now and again, but it amounts to nothing. The photos of Ilena that Amy finds seem to have appeared there on their own since neither Alice nor Ollie know where they came from, however neither of them seems too concerned about it (Alice is actually remarkably calm about photos of her husband’s ex lying around). And again, they “bring back” the weird Cat Person from the original and cast her in a different, vastly less interesting role. I know Lewton liked to fight the studio (who wanted a lurid, eye-catching follow up), but did he have to go THIS far in the other direction? Especially when it’s not very satisfying as a drama, either?

In a way it almost feels like fan-fiction. People who love a particular work of fiction will often write their own sequels and spinoffs, but often miss the point of what made the original special. They will also often shoehorn in stuff that they care about or is specific only to them, which is why you can probably find a story online where the brothers from Supernatural fight the ghost of someone’s bitchy mom who just doesn’t understand her daughter and wouldn’t let her go to Mark’s party. Once I realized that the actress from the original was playing a different character, I actually wondered if her and her mother’s storyline was being continued from another movie of Lewton’s that I hadn’t seen, because their story had these very specific beats to it that were never fully explored. Indeed, as the commentary explained, this story WAS very close to Lewton (the invitations thing was something he himself did as a young boy), so perhaps the movie was a bit too personal? Especially for a sequel?

At least it’s well made, all things considered. The original director was moving too slow and thus editor Robert Wise (yes, that one) was given a promotion, taking over and shooting the rest of the film, as well as a couple of reshoots that occurred later when the ending was changed and also the studio demanded at least ONE cat in their Cat People sequel (the scene is so arbitrary you probably wouldn’t even need to be told that it was an insert). But apart from that little excursion, it doesn’t feel like a movie that had a lot of trouble getting completed.

Plus, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph slip back into their roles with ease; she’s still a bit sassy, he a bit of a dick (he basically tells his young daughter that she’s a weirdo). It was very rare to see human non-villain characters return in sequels to horror films back in the day, and in fact, the wholly different approach would be even more obnoxious if not for them giving us some sort of anchor. I remember Pierce Brosnan pondering why Bond couldn’t be used in a horror movie or something, because the character was strong enough at that point for people to follow him even if he wasn’t saving the world while banging chicks with silly names – this “sequel” sort of has that same mindset. “This is what happens when Ollie and Alice have to deal with a weird kid instead of a wife who can turn into a panther. Sorry about the title.”

As with the original, Greg Mank provides a commentary that is mostly summarizing the on-screen action while listing off the credits of the new actors (he also repeats some of the info on the returning actors; we once again get a complete description of Randolph’s role in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). He does explain the nature of the reshoots and a general idea of which footage was Wise’s and which was original director Gunther Fritsch, as well as providing some decent insight here and there, but overall it’s not really necessary – the IMDb page will fill you in on most of it. The only exception is when he edits in part of an interview with Simone Simon (top billed for less than 10 minutes of screen time), where she explains that she was offered a role in a bigger movie but did this out of loyalty to Lewton, which is nice. Shame it probably wasn’t worth it though; I suspect that only those who own the box set or this double disc set have the movie in their collection. Highly disappointing.

What say you?


  1. And again a film which there is not in Germany and on German! Oh well, from 1944... ^^

    According to the on-line film data bank has appeared only in the USA.

  2. Fan fiction. Hit the nail in the head. I totally agree. Mild thriller, but not horror.

  3. I decided to revisit both Cat People a couple of weeks ago when I saw you tweeting about them, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. I can see the frustration of how different it is, but something about that works for me in this case (and I generally kind of hate it when sequels try to be so different as to be unrecognizable). It's like a dark, wintry fable with an interesting, understated moral at the end (okay, it's basically just "be nice and love/forgive people," but still).


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