Friday, July 1, 2016

Short Take: The Curse of the Cat People

Producer Val Lewton's Cat People was an enormous box-office success upon its release in 1942. His 1944 The Curse of the Cat People is ostensibly a sequel, but it is quite far removed from the subject of its predecessor. While it references the earlier film, and the cast returns to play the same characters, it seems to have been conceived as a stand-alone project. The connections to the earlier film are all but nominal. There's certainly nothing about the passions of love turning women into homicidal panthers. It's instead a story about a lonely little girl (Ann Carter) with a wayward imagination. Her flights of fancy concern her parents (Kent Smith and Jane Randolph, both from the earlier film), and the father attempts to police her behavior. But he only succeeds in making the girl retreat further inward. The two new friends she makes only complicate things. The first is the ghost of the father's first wife (Simone Simon, also from the earlier film). The second is an elderly actress (Julia Deen) who shares a house with a resentful, live-in adult daughter (Elizabeth Russell). DeWitt Bodean's screenplay is poorly developed. The girl's friendships with the ghost and the actress only illustrate the pathos of the girl's circumstances. These relationships don't intersect until the contrived, melodramatic finale, and they don't add any depth to the material. The film does a capable job of hitting obvious sentimental notes, but that's the most that can be said for it. Lewton, directors Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, and the superb cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca otherwise treat the film as a platform for Gothic visuals, which are far more decorative than poetic. The cast also includes Eve March as the girl's kindergarten teacher, and Sir Lancelot as the parents' housekeeper.

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