The toughest of the Val Lewton-produced films to discuss, and review, The Curse Of The Cat People is arguably a more difficult film to appreciate BECAUSE of the title, and because it is plotted as a sequel to Cat People. Lewton was used to titles being foisted upon him, it was the method used for a lot of his output while at RKO, and a method that allowed him to turn many obstacles into opportunities, but it feels to me as if The Curse Of The Cat People just cannot quite deliver a film able to carry the weight of that title.
Kent Smith and Jane Randolph return, playing Oliver and Alice Reed, and their family unit is completed by young Amy Reed (Ann Carter). Amy is your typical little girl, although she may have an atypical imaginary friend, in the shape of her father's first wife (Irena, played by Simone Simon). Other characters who become part of this story are Barbara Farren (Elizabeth Russell) and her mother Mrs. Julia Farren (Julia Dean), as well as one of Amy's teachers, Miss Callahan (Eve March), and what unfolds is a look at the power of a child's imagination and the importance of allowing children to enjoy what their imagination creates for them.
Directed by Robert Wise, who took over from director Gunther von Fritsch, and written by DeWitt Bodeen, this is a lovely exploration of the themes just mentioned above. People expecting the kind of chills delivered by the first film will be (rightly?) disappointed, however, because what you get is part family drama and part fairytale. There’s a hazy, dream-like, atmosphere for most of the runtime, almost a physical fog overlaid on the film, perhaps as if viewers are being asked to peer as far back into their own past as possible.
The acting is decent enough from everyone, but it’s also all in relation to how people deal with young Amy. Carter is enjoyably believable in that role, and ready to approach others with an innocent and unguarded attitude. She will befriend anyone, and may not always differentiate between what is real and what is her imagination. Smith and Randolph have to just be the loving parents, basically, which they do well enough, and Simon gets to appear in what feels like a pleasing cameo. Russell and Dean both get a bit more to work with, and Russell makes the strongest impression due to her dislike of a child she sees getting more affection and attention from her mother than she does, and March is likable, but the film never spends much time looking at things from the POV of the adults. This is all about the child, and it is a relief that Carter is able to deliver the performance that the film deserves.
Although the set-pieces are small in scale, low-key in how they play out, they are interspersed throughout the 70-minute runtime in just the right places to help the pacing. And they work well. They will feel familiar to anyone who can remember their own childhood, and there’s a nice juxtaposition between the adult concerns and the small moments that seem overwhelming to a child.
Anyone who has read this review and doesn’t seem sure about whether or not they need to watch this . . . you do. Despite me starting this review with a warning about the baggage attached to it, and the difficulty of appreciating it for what it is (as opposed to what people may expected from it), It at least properly links to Cat People, there’s a very small role for Sir Lancelot (a Lewton regular at this time), and the finale manages to add some unexpected tension and dread. It is a very good film. It just isn’t as good as the film it follows on from.
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