A Movie A Day: Quint on CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)
Little girl, come into the garden. It’s pleasant and cool here.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we hit the sequel to yesterday’s CAT PEOPLE titled CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE which brings back producer Val Lewton, stars Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Elizabeth Russell, screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen and Robert Wise, who went from editorial to directorial from original to sequel.
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this movie. I know I liked it, but I’m also a little confused by it. At least 7 years have progressed since the events of the first movie. Simone Simon died at the end of the first movie and Kent Smith and Jane Randolph have wed and settled down, producing a little girl.
While Simone, Smith and Randolph all return, none of them feel like their characters from the first one. Smith might be close, but that’s just because I think he was kind of a dickhead in the first movie and here he’s even more so.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. The first film was a huge success and allowed Lewton some freedom at RKO. Apparently the way the studio worked with Lewton was to get a title approved through testing them out on general audiences and then they told Lewton to make a movie to go with the title.
At least in CAT PEOPLE Simone Simon does turn into a pissed off jealous murdering cat. There is nothing like that in this movie. Instead the Curse of the title can be interpreted a few different ways.
It could be an almost self-fulfilling prophecy situation where Smith is so paranoid that his daughter might emulate his first, dead cat woman wife that he roughly insists his young daughter be as normal as possible and doesn’t tolerate any whimsy of youth… which of course, pushes the girl only further into a more solitude life filled with imaginary friends.
Or the curse could be the Ghost of Irene haunting the garden of the house. I doubt it… Irene as a ghost is sweeter than Irene as a crazy cat lady and really does seem to be a legitimate playmate for young Amy (played by wunderkind Ann Carter).
At first I thought it was going to be Simone returning from beyond the grave to turn the little girl into a cat person, but apparently not. Then the crazy other cat lady from the Serbian restaurant in the first film, Elizabeth Russell, shows up living in the scary house of the neighborhood, the other kids saying a witch lives there.
Oh, boy! Here it is! This is where we get the cat people returning… nope, not there either. Instead Russell plays a very sad character, living with her elderly mother (Julia Dean) who is certain that Russell is a stranger impersonating her long-dead daughter. The pain that Russell shows in her eyes each time her mother says those things is a pretty big clue-in that she’s not a crazy cat-imposter, but that her mother is a little on the crazy side.
I have no clue how this film was received back in the day, but I can only imagine that audiences were pissed off that there were no cat people in a movie called CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, a sequel to a movie called CAT PEOPLE that actually had cat people in it.
Instead it seems the filmmakers decided to experiment a bit and removed all the visual landmarks of the original film. The first is a dark noir thriller set in a sprawling city, this one set in the suburbs (literally the famous Sleepy Hollow) in bright daylight. The original was a sly, creepy psychological story and this one more of a fairy tale.
I wonder what Guillermo Del Toro thinks of this movie… It has a lot of similarities to some of his work. A very talented young actress is the lead in a story with ghosts and crazy ladies… and then there’s the theme of having nothing to fear from the dead. It’s the living that can hurt you. That’s here, too.
Ann Carter is great as the lead, embodying the innocence of youth as well as the strangeness of it. It’s a really creepy time if you really think back on it, back when you could imagine anything and believe it with such force that you could start to scare yourself… at least I could… it’s why I knew deep down in my heart that the shark from Jaws somehow got into the deep end of the neighborhood pool, even though my brain knew that couldn’t happen.
Simone Simon is also noteworthy here. You can see the movie star quality about her, how magnetic she is when she enters the frame. Her ghostly character does have a very sweet relationship with Ann, despite how at first you think she’s going to be a sinister influence.
I’m also quite fond of the extremely fractured mother/daughter relationship between Elizabeth Russell and Julia Dean. Dean takes to Ann and quickly forms an even greater ball of bitterness inside Russell. I would have actually really loved to have seen this story told through Russell’s eyes as she sees her mother give some stranger the love she herself has been trying desperately to earn for years.
Other than that, I can’t say I was taken with anybody else… wait, that’s not true. I really dug the man-servant, Edward, played by Lewton regular Sir Lancelot. Awesome name, right? But I still didn’t really care much about Kent Smith. I find his performance about vanilla and one-dimensional as you can get. He doesn’t have any personality in these two films.
Final Thoughts: I definitely enjoyed seeing this movie and a big part of me even enjoyed that it’s such a radical fuck-you switch of gears from the first film. You can’t accuse this group of resting on their laurels or playing to the lowest common denominator. The flick misses Jacques Tourneur’s confidence and way with black and white photography. Nicholas Musuraca, DoP, returns from the original, but doesn’t get as much chance to show off, except during the pretty snowy night sequences. The final flick is a little rough around the edges, but as a curiosity it’s a must.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Sunday, August 31st: THE 7TH VICTIM (1943)
Monday, September 1st: THE GHOST SHIP (1943)
Tuesday, September 2nd: ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)
Wednesday, September 3rd: BEDLAM (1946)
Thursday, September 4th: BLACK SABBATH (1964)
Friday, September 5th: BLACK SUNDAY (1977)
Saturday, September 6th: TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1972)
In answer to some of you in the talkback from yesterday, THE LEOPARD MAN and THE BODY SNATCHER, the only two left over from the Val Lewton Box Set, will indeed be watched later in the column.
I’m actually considering putting a halt to the connecting tissues aspect, freezing the column in its tracks starting October 1st and only watching horror/thrillers for the entire month, not bound by trying to connect them, although I’m sure that’ll inevitably occur for a few titles. Then November 1st I’d pick up the column again, right where I left off.
My only concerns are that we’re hitting a lot of Val Lewton now and following those up with almost a week of Mario Bava, so I don’t want to get horrored out. What do you folks think?
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Aug. 31, 2008, 5:47 a.m. CST
It has been awhile and so I may be off here a bit but if I recall correctly Val Lewton had this concept in mind and wanted to do this script. RKO wanted Curse Of The Cat People. So he gave them the film he wanted to make and slapped their title on it with enough connections to the first film to make it a sequel. RKO was not exactly happy with him. But, hey, he got a script made he wanted to and was willing to face the repercussions. I believe Lewton even wanted to try and change the name of the film. And the scene at the beginning with the cat was added at RKO's insistence just so there would actually be a cat in a movie called Curse Of The Cat People.<br><br> And the dad is an even bigger dick than you imply. He doesn't forbid fantasy and whimsy but worse gives mixed signals. At the start of the film the little girl gets in trouble for believing in a bit of whimsy HE himself instilled in her. Sort of like telling a kid there is a Santa Claus and then berating her for being silly enough to believe in him. But watch the film again with no Cat People expectations and it will play as a much better flick.
Aug. 31, 2008, 5:56 a.m. CST
I remember first seeing it about 15 odd years ago and thought it was very odd and very original. Even better though is the DVD set of "Body Snatcher and I walked with a Zombie" - Body Snatcher especially is pretty fuckin brilliant and I can't think of a better Karlof performance.
Aug. 31, 2008, 6:14 a.m. CST
Here’s an interesting case example of a sequel. All the main characters from the last movie are there but the audience doesn’t get the original’s main meat, a woman turning into a cat and stalking people. It’s understandable why many people wouldn’t find this satisfying. However, the story is pretty good. It’s just of a different nature. I commend screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen for coming up with an original tale that’s not just another sequel rehash. It’s a refreshing change. Yes, he could have made it more sinister by having Irena’s ghost talk Amy, the little girl, into doing bad cat-like things. But I like what’s there. He wrote The 7th Victim. I’ll look forward seeing what he does.<p>The most effective scenes are of children teasing and then ditching Amy. They twisted my heart some. Ann Carter delivers a very good performance as Amy, one of the best child performances I’ve seen recently. Except for an unaccredited cameo in ’52 she stopped acting at age 13. Too bad. I wonder how she would have been as an adult actress. Julia Dean shines as a lively elderly actress remembering her glory days and making friends with Amy.<p>The 1950s prototype very square repressed household rubbed my fur the wrong way. But maybe that’s the intention. I’ve had enough of Kent Smith for a while. I miss Jacques Tourneur’s addictive direction, but you can’t have everything. Overall, it’s a pretty good interesting sequel. I wouldn’t go so far as calling it a must, but it’s definitely a notable curiosity.<p>I’m all for gorging on horror in October. In fact, my appetite is whetted for gorging on horror in September too. But I’m a dyed in wool horror nut. It’s October somewhere in my head all the time. But if you think you might get horrored out, feel free do watch other stuff in September. It doesn’t bother me if there’s no connective tissue from title to title.
Aug. 31, 2008, 6:44 a.m. CST
When he joined in 1942 he was given "complete creative control" as long as he agreed to stick to some very specific rules: He had to use "the studio's already-tested sensationalist titles, to avoid messages, to spend less than $150 000 per movie or per month on shooting and to limit the length to around 75 minutes." Well, after losing a fortune with Citizen Kane, RKO was on the verge on bankruptcy. Lewton completely saved their asses with Cat People.
Aug. 31, 2008, 6:52 a.m. CST
(self appointed) I like the idea of a horror-centric October. Maybe start it mid month on the 15th if you're worried about being "Horrored-out".______I love those Curse posters. Talk about false advertising...
Aug. 31, 2008, 7:13 a.m. CST
I'm pretty sure that you'd be required by law to do so. Keep in mind that you don't always have to look for quality movies-- for every piece of genius filmmaking like Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING, there are dozens of hilariously bad schlock-fests. If I may make a recommendation for the latter, check out a lovely little film called PIECES. You won't be disappointed.
Aug. 31, 2008, 8:06 a.m. CST
How about starting on the 13th and then continuing on through the end? You get the obvious (lucky) 13th reference, and a nice little bookend 13/31 for the month.
Aug. 31, 2008, 9:13 a.m. CST
I like the 13-31 Horror AMAD fest<P>as for this movie, I caught it a couple of years ago, maybe even close to 10 years ago on AMC or TCM and being blown away having not seen the orignal only Schrader's remake, it really is a twisted bizaree little movie
Aug. 31, 2008, 10:04 a.m. CST
Irena really was both the protagonist and the antagonist. Smith's actions had to be understandable, but you weren't supposed to like and identify with him - you were supposed to feel sorry for Irena. So to me Smith nailed it. Not enough of a bad guy to be the bad guy, but not enough of a good guy to be the good guy because he was meant to be neither.
Aug. 31, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST
I'm glad to see you add "The Leopard Man" to your list. You will not be disappointed (well, except for the commentary by William Friedkin - not that insightful). As for horror month in october, may I make a couple of suggestions: Eyes Without a Face; Night of the Demon, Dead of Night; Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter; The Changeling (70s version); The Other; Martin; and Targets. You might have already seen some of them, but if not they are worth a look. I would have added "Night of the Eagle" but it is not available on DVD.
Aug. 31, 2008, 10:36 a.m. CST
by Boba Fat
...and maybe can carry on into other months / seasons / holidays? Makes sense for a column that runs for a year. And Quint? I was able to convince myself at the age of 7 that Bruce was in my bath!
Aug. 31, 2008, 10:52 a.m. CST
I say do it Quint. But I think you should always start with a little 'how this might be connected' thing like you do now. Sometimes there'll be nothing, but I'd be willing to bet there'll be connections more often then you'd think.
Aug. 31, 2008, 10:55 a.m. CST
Though Lewton left some poignant footage on the cutting room floor.
Aug. 31, 2008, 11:31 a.m. CST
Why do the living fear the dead, when the living are the ones who are still alive? Profound...and stolen from Plan 9 from Outer Space.
You'll have to start breaking the rules if you want to keep this up -- I think watching a movie a day is more important than, say, keeping up the connections between the movies, which, if you're going by your own collection, there HAS to be a point where a connection can't be made anymore (right?). Same with horror flicks -- if you say you're going to watch all horror flicks, you don't want to watch yourself into a corner and give up as a result. The important thing here is to keep the column/movie watching going, not "following the rules."
Aug. 31, 2008, 2:30 p.m. CST
The little girl is absolutely remarkable and gives such a great performance. Also terrific is Elizabeth Russell, who made a big impact in "Cat People" with a very small scene. Here, she has a lot more to do and a much more definied character to play, and she's very good. Russell also turns up in "The 7th Victim", which is probably her best performance in a Lewton picture. As with all the Lewton films, there's a very real and believable world created for the story to take place in, and its very easy to get drawn into the Sleepy Hollow of "Curse of the Cat People". In my mind, its more of a sad fairy tale than a horror movie, about a little girl occupying that period of one's life where the world isn't quite real yet, and its beautifully dramatized in the scene where Irena first appears - a shot of AMY's POV of the back yard, where there's a sudden shift in the stage lighting that's like the sun breaking through the clouds, and Irena appears, looking not unlike a fairy godmother from child's bedtime story. Its a magical moment in the film and one that stuck with me.
Aug. 31, 2008, 7:20 p.m. CST
... have been giving aicn recently, I've just got to say, Quint, that this series of articles has been some of the best stuff in the site's history. Good work! I've discovered a lot of good older flicks that I never would have thought to pick up before.
Aug. 31, 2008, 7:27 p.m. CST
I love the idea for October, but I'm surprised you have 31 horror/thrillers in your possession that you haven't watched. If that's the case, then I thought the 20 movies I have but haven't watched was a lot!!
Aug. 31, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST
I really like Targets. Really interesting movie.
Sept. 1, 2008, 3:47 a.m. CST
But I never saw the sequel. Sounds like I didn't miss much...
Sept. 1, 2008, 11:45 p.m. CST
Nov. 8, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST
The source for the screenplay was, if I recall correctly, a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson called 'Amy and Her Friend". Lovely movie.
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