Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the noir thriller THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) by directors Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise. To best describe the story, I will use my own plot summary:
The young, friendless daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed befriends the ghost of her father’s dead first wife and an aging, reclusive actress.
Okay fans of the original Cat People, this is the sequel we had to wait two years to see. Finally, we get to revisit some of our favorite characters from the first entry. Though, those looking for any actual cat people are likely to be disappointed. Unless one decides to count the ghost of Irena, none of the cat people return to the fold for this picture.
What connection might this have to the original? Well, from a technical standpoint it continues the story of Oliver Reed and his life after the incidents in the first feature. We pick up with Oliver and his wife Alice six or so years after the events in Cat People as they struggle with accepting their introverted, fantasy loving daughter. The structure bears enough similarities to the first entry that it feels like a nice extension without retreading the exact same ground.
The majority of the narrative is seen from the perspective of Oliver and Alice’s daughter Amy who often blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Her more fantastical imaginings make for some striking visuals that, though simple, are impressive for a movie made int he mid 1940’s. The good use of special effects along with the idea that Amy has received a wishing ring help to further the idea that it is possible supernatural events are taking place.
The role of Amy is perfectly portrayed by the dreamy eyed Ann Carter, who is able to get the audience on her side with her palpable innocence. Casting child actors is a tricky thing as some go too over the top while others border on wooden, but here the role is given just enough sincerity to work. Since she serves as the linchpin of the feature, it is a good thing that they were able to find a young actress that can make us not only care about her isolation, but also allow us to believe that everything we see might actually be real. This sense of uncertainty allows us to see her perspective plainly so that we can empathize with her character and her struggle to feel accepted.
If there is one thing that will stick out to a modern day audience as being a bit off it is the way Oliver treats his daughter. Given the social morays of the time, someone who seems apart from society was just not normal and that sort of person was often looked down upon. This idea, along with Oliver’s experiences in the first movie, makes Oliver seem fairly harsh towards his six year old. With the proper context it makes sense that he would react the way he does, but those who have not seen Cat People or those who believe family dynamics back then were the same as they are today will find his behavior a bit off-putting.
All in all, this sequel sidesteps much of the original movie to give us a surprisingly poetic journey into the mind of a little girl. While some of the family dynamics seem dated by today’s standards, the effects and production value still hold up after seventy plus years. Fans of the original Cat People (1942) or movies like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) should definitely give this a look.
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