The Curse of the Cat People (1944) | Val Lewton’s haunting sequel is a tender tale of terror indeed!
THE BLACK MENACE CREEPS AGAIN!
In Tarrytown, New York, home of the legend of Sleepy Hollow, sensitive six-year-old Amy Reed (Ann Carter) worries her parents Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph) over her constant daydreaming and her inability to mix with the local children. Oliver is especially concerned, as his first wife, Irena (Simone Simon), was driven to madness and murder when she became convinced she was descended from a race of Balkan cat-like creatures.
When Amy is given what she believes is a wishing ring by the reclusive Mrs Farran (Julia Dean), who lives in an old mansion dubbed ‘the witch’s house’ with her daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell), Amy creates an imaginary friend in the guise of Irena, whose picture she finds in her father’s study.
Amy and her invisible friend happily play together as Christmas Eve approaches and the first snow reaches Tarrytown. But when Irena leaves after Amy is punished for daydreaming, Amy heads out into the woods one dark and stormy night in search of her only friend…
A TENDER TALE OF TERROR
Just as 1942’s Cat People was a brilliant piece of supernatural cinema, but a long way from horror, this ‘sequel’, again produced by the legendary Val Lewton, is anything but horrific. It’s actually a gentle fantasy about a lonely child caught up in a world that she imagines for herself, and takes its cue from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1913 poem, The Unseen Playmate.
While it should be watched alongside the original 1942 classic, it’s certainly stands on its own merits despite being something of a flop on its original release; even UCLA child psychologists at the time praised its treatment of ‘the troubled sensitive child’.
Ann Carter dominates every scene as Amy, and imbues her character with a sensitivity that steers clear of sentimentality. It’s a great performance by Carter, who retired from acting, aged 13, after contracting polio in 1948. She went on to become a teacher and passed away earlier this year (27 January), aged 77.
Set seven years after the events of Cat People, and moving the action from the bustle of New York City to the ‘burbs, this sequel has nothing to do with the Balkan curse that drove Simon’s poor Irena mad. Indeed, the title was at the behest of RKO and was originally to be titled: Amy and Her Friend.
The ‘Curse’ of the title here is embodied in the spirit of Irena, whose tragic demise still haunts Oliver: he blames himself for her death, keeps photos of her as a memento, and even has one of her slightly disturbing paintings hanging in his study. Fearing Amy’s solitude will breed the same despair and madness that killed Irena, he’s rightly worried. But it’s actually his refusal to believe his daughter that gives form to her imaginary friend.
This inability of a parent connecting with their child is also mirrored in the estranged relationship between Mrs Farran (who is obviously suffering from dementia) and her scary-looking daughter (played by the same actress who caused Irena to go off the rails in Cat People), which gives the film its true menace and becomes integral to Amy’s journey after she is drawn into their creepy Addams Family-styled mansion.
The quaint suburban setting and all-American pie ideals might seem outdated by today’s standards, but if you consider audiences in 1944 were suffering the daily horrors of World War II (the film was also screened in combat areas overseas), then the fantasy does a brilliant job at reminding us of the wonders and innocence of childhood.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The OEG Classic Movies Region 2 DVD release, part of the Hollywood Studio Collection, features a fine un-restored print of the film in the 4:3 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital mono sound.
• READ MY REVIEW OF 1942’s CAT PEOPLE (CLICK HERE)[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O0hWTAyEXA%5D
Posted on May 1, 2014, in Classic, Must See, Must-See, Thriller and tagged 1940s thriller, Ann Carter, Classic, Elizabeth Russell, Fantasy, Jane Randolph, Kent Smith, Must See, New York, Odeon Entertainment, OEG Classic Movies, Simone Simon, Tarrytown, The Hollywood Studio Collection, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Unseen Playmate, Thriller, Val Lewton. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.