Curse of the Cat People, The (1944)

“Amy isn’t lying to you. It’s an unseen companion; children love to dream things up.”

Synopsis:
A lonely, imaginative girl (Ann Carter) befriends a beautiful apparition (Simone Simon) who looks just like the deceased wife of her father (Kent Smith); meanwhile, she becomes acquainted with a dotty neighbor (Julia Dean) who refuses to acknowledge the existence of her own increasingly distraught daughter (Elizabeth Russell).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately labels this “truly imaginative, magical little sleeper” from “producer Val Lewton’s ‘B’ unit at RKO” a “gem”, noting that it bears “no resemblance” to “any other horror film ever made”. Essentially the story of a lonely, socially awkward only child who imagines herself a beautiful playmate (Lewton’s preferred title for the film was Amy and Her Friend), it actually defies categorization, and should probably not be labeled a “horror” film at all. In classic Lewton fashion, its chills and frights are suggested rather than shown; indeed, the only monsters here are ones created through the tragedy of life — such as the nearly psychotic Russell, who is being slowly driven off the deep end by her mother’s maddening refusal to acknowledge her existence. Screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen’s inclusion of this subplot in the storyline at first appears a bit odd — until one begins to recognize the parallels between Russell and Amy: both are lonely, misunderstood individuals who are alienated from their parents, but while one chooses fantastic escape, the other wallows in increasingly hostile and dangerous bitterness to soothe her emotional wounds.

Interestingly, while Peary labels this a “so-called sequel” to Cat People, arguing that it “has no resemblance to its predecessor”, this isn’t technically accurate: Bodeen’s screenplay actually creatively imagines what might have happened to each of the central protagonists of Cat People a few years after that film’s tragic denouement. In this follow-up story, Smith is now (predictably) married to sympathetic Randolph, and they have a child — but Smith remains so haunted and guilt-ridden by his troubled past that he suspects Carter of somehow representing or channeling his late wife. Meanwhile — depending upon how literally one wishes to view Carter’s imaginative friendship — Simon’s character here could be viewed (as one contributor on IMDb’s message board posits) as finally having achieved some peace after her tortured life, and bringing her new-found happiness to the daughter who might have been her own. Despite a few creakingly dated elements (wait until you hear Carter’s teacher’s opinion about spankings!), this remains a true sleeper, one which all film fanatics are sure to want to check out.

Note: This was, as Peary notes, “probably the first horror film ever screened at child-psychology courses”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann Carter as Alice
  • Nicholas Musuraca’s cinematography
  • DeWitt Bodeen’s lovely, sensitive screenplay about childhood and loneliness

Must See?
Yes, as an acknowledged classic by Lewton.

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One Response to “Curse of the Cat People, The (1944)”

  1. See my post on ‘Cat People’ (1942).

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