The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Directors: Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise

As noted, Val Lewton had to use the titles inflicted upon his films by RKO, and this is the one that gave him the most grief; it seems to have provoked him into deliberately making a film that had as little to do with its title as possible. It didn’t really help that RKO insisted on marketing the film as the sort of horror film his other productions had been, and (obviously) as a sequel to Cat People, when it had bugger all resemblance to those other films and not really much connection to its nominal original; it reuses several crew members and actors and characters (also bringing back Sir Lancelot from I Walked With a Zombie), but it’s tenuous stuff; the only “cat person” is the ghost of Irena and the “curse” is more figurative than otherwise. The film is about Oliver and Alice, married after the events of the first film, and more particularly their daughter Amy. And, well, it’s kind of boring. I mean, I know it wasn’t really meant as a horror film, but even so, when I was watching it I was unable to ignore the Cat People connection, and accordingly I couldn’t really think of it as what it really is, if that makes sense. It’s about a very lonely and unhappy child, who summons up an “imaginary friend” who just happens to be the ghost of her dad’s first wife. If this film had been completely separate from Cat People, if it had been a different set of characters entirely, I might’ve liked it more. Or maybe not, I don’t know. The film’s production was somewhat problematic, started by Gunther Fritsch (making his feature debut) who was replaced cos he was falling too far behind schedule, and Robert Wise (also making his feature debut—his career generally wound up being more distinguished, I think) finished it; the general on-set atmosphere was kind of bleak, it went way over schedule and budget, and Lewton wound up in hospital at one point. In spite of that I can’t really say I noticed any tonal split in the final result; I just didn’t care for it that much. I can appreciate what Lewton was trying to do with this film (again, Greg Mank’s commentary on the DVD is great) and that it was actually quite a personal job for him, and yeah, the production again is beautiful, all of that. I just wish I’d connected with it more than I did.

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