Curse of the Cat People, The (1944)

The Curse of the Cat People (1944), produced by Val Lewton, directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise.

First Review:

In some ways a sequel to Cat People (1942) in that the actors reprise their roles and refer to the previous film. In other ways an entirely different intent and tone, a dark look into childhood fantasies and imaginary friends. On location photography in an old town with big trees and old houses. (Later: actually filmed at the RKO Ranch).

Some rough and smooth; as explained in the commentary track we are missing quite a few scenes that were never made. The parts dealing with the eccentric old woman with her scary daughter in the scary house are not worked out very well. Films featuring much dialog with children tend to be a bit stiff, but there are some exceedingly odd and disturbing moments. The title and studio advertising are entirely misleading.

Gorgeous photography.

Second Review:

After the strange death of his first wife -- the supernaturally afflicted Irena -- an architect has married his former gal-pal and moved upstate. Their child is "a little different", without friends and always in trouble at school. Her father, having had enough of the uncanny, has a horror of her fantasy life and imaginary friends and punishes her for not being more normal. She finds other friends. Some are living. Some are sane.

At first we object to the title: there is no curse and no cat people. Which is typical of Lewton at RKO: they picked the title and he made the movie he wanted. On reflection: Dad is still haunted by Irena and keeps secret pictures of her. Of young Amy he says "She might almost be Irena's child". That any weirdness might attach to her would indeed curse his life.

And Irena has returned, if visible only to Amy. Maybe she's imaginary, the little girl having assembled clues and produced an extra-sexy guardian angel or fairy godmother. She has no trace of the infernal and at Christmas she sings a French carol: Il est né, le divin Enfant.

Consistency of tone is a problem here. It's like two movies shuffled together: a somewhat cloying family drama and a much better thriller of insanity and haunting. Perhaps related: we have two directors. Editor Robert Wise got his first directing credit when he took over after the film fell behind schedule. Some of the better scenes look just like him but I don't know who was responsible for what. Some bits of gorgeous composition.

The stories do link up: unless she gets some love and acceptance from her obtuse parents at home, she's headed the way of the inmates at that other house: the cracked old actress and her suffering, perhaps murderous daughter. Roy Webb's score covers both halves: at first sweet, becoming ominous.

Ann Carter, last seen in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)... a beautiful little girl and very effective in the role. With children you have to accept some limitations: earnestness is difficult and seems artificial. Just being natural is the hardest thing. Carter left acting when she fell ill with polio, still a child.

If I were a film producer, Val Lewton would be my ideal: the patron saint of all those who labor for bosses who don't give a damn, unable to see quality in front of their noses. They wanted cheap entertainment product; he produced economical little B-film gems, saving the studio after the Orson Welles disaster. Were they grateful? What do you think? They hated each of his films in turn.

On DVD with a commentary track that stresses the personal nature of this project for Lewton, how he put some of himself, good and bad, into several of the characters.

Later: available on a lovely Criterion Blu-ray with an additional commentary track.