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Posts Tagged ‘Ann Carter’

It’s just possible that you may vaguely recall I started the year by looking at some of the productions from RKO’s horror unit in the early 1940s, specifically Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie. For a while I did entertain the notion of watching them all, but it proved hard to track down copies of some of the films – not being able to find a free copy of The Seventh Victim anywhere was a bit irksome, as I recall – and, well, it does seem hard to believe now, but five months ago the world was a very different place: things kept happening unexpectedly, the days were all very different from each other, and in these circumstances it was easy for a project to get forgotten about.

But anyway. One RKO horror movie which it is currently quite easy to track down is The Curse of the Cat People, released in 1944 and directed by Gunter von Fritsch and Robert Wise: Wise, as you may be aware, would go on to direct such outstanding movies as the original The Day the Earth Stood Still and West Side Story (he also ended up having a fairly gruelling experience trying to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which only goes to show that nobody has a perfect career), so this is a significant movie for this reason if no other. It is, as the title suggests, a sequel to 1942’s Cat People.

Having said all that, I can quite easily imagine people taking exception to several of the assertions I’ve just made: namely, that this is a horror movie, and also that it is a genuine sequel to Jacques Tourneur’s original movie. Well, it’s a follow-up, certainly, for it features four of the cast of the 1942 film, three of whom are definitely meant to be playing the same characters.

Seven or eight years have gone by since the events of Cat People (or so we are invited to assume), and ship designer Oliver Reed (yes, yes, we went through all that back in January) – played once more by Kent Smith – is married to former co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). The two of them are living in wholesome suburban bliss with their young daughter Amy (Ann Carter) and their butler, Edward (Lancelot Pinard, who is billed – last, despite having a significant role in the movie – under his stage name of Sir Lancelot). I would say not to let the fact that this fairly ordinary family have a live-in Afro-American servant alienate you too much, but I’m not sure that’s possible.

Well, anyway, all is well for the Reeds, except for the fact that Amy is a bit ‘dreamy’ – she makes friends with butterflies, rather than other children, and seems to find it difficult to distinguish between reality and her imagination. Oliver reveals himself to be far from the most sensitive of parents by decrying this sort of behaviour as ‘lying’ and getting quite cross with his daughter about it, without fully hearing her out or considering her situation. Alice isn’t exactly off the hook, as the pair of them have rows about their child-raising technique in Amy’s presence, which I doubt Dr Spock would approve of.

Amy’s neighbourhood wanderings lead her to make the acquaintance of a lonely old woman (Julia Dean) and her hostile daughter (Elizabeth Russell, who played a cat person in the 1942 film but seems to be a different character here). The old woman gives her a ring which Amy comes to believe can grant wishes, and in her loneliness wishes that she had a friend. And a friend comes to her, called out of ‘silence and darkness’: a friend named Irena (Simone Simon), who very much appears to be Oliver’s first wife, who died in rather mysterious circumstances at the end of the first film…

Spooky stuff, huh? Especially when you consider that Irena’s main issue was that she was a cat person, descended from Serbian witches and given to turning into a panther and tearing things and people apart when powerful emotions like jealousy were roused in her. How do you imagine she reacts when she discovers her man has married her rival and had a child with her?

Well, you may continue wondering, for the film makes only the vaguest allusions to Irena’s problem – beyond the title, the cat people are barely mentioned at all, and the ‘curse’ referred to is the shadow that Irena’s death continues to cast over Oliver and Alice’s marriage. In this film, Irena appears to be an entirely benign presence in Amy’s life, almost like her imaginary friend – but for the fact Amy recognises her from some old family photos which Oliver has rather thoughtlessly left lying around the house.

So what, then, is this film about? Well, that’s a very good question; I wish I had a good answer for you. It may seem to have a ghost in it, but I wouldn’t honestly describe it as a horror movie at all: it’s actually very family-friendly, as you might expect of a film where one of the main characters is a six or seven year old girl. I think the film is largely about being a child, and not yet fully appreciating the difference between fantasy and reality – the implication, of course, is that ghosts and other objects of fantasy do exist in some form, and people should be more open to such possibilities: it does seem that Irena has some form of objective reality (though she seems to have become much more French in the afterlife), and plays a part in saving Amy’s life before the end of the film.

But even so, this is a strange, oblique film, very dream-like itself in many ways. Even at only about 70 minutes long it doesn’t really seem packed with incident, and it almost feels like some of the different elements of the story don’t quite connect together in the conventional way: it’s not immediately clear how the subplot about the Farren family actually adds to the story – the casting of Elizabeth Russell is certainly suggestive, but is this a red herring? It’s hard to be sure. Certainly the ending of the film smacks a little of a manufactured climax, which is perhaps a shame.

‘Sequel’ really isn’t the right word for The Curse of the Cat People, though I’m struggling to think of a better one. How do you describe a film which takes a group of characters and uses them to tell a new story, almost entirely unconnected from the one in which they first appeared, with no commonalities of plot, tone, or theme? ‘Follow-up’ is the best I can think of, but even this suggests a commonality which simply isn’t there. This is a well-made and memorable film, if only for the strange oneiric atmosphere that pervades it, but it neither functions as a sequel nor could it really work as a standalone movie. A real oddity, but a classy one.

 

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