(1944) dir. Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise
viewed: 05/05/07 at the Stanford Theater, Palo Alto, CA
The second part of the double feature that started with director Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942), The Curse of the Cat People is an unusual sequel, also producer by the amazing Val Lewton, but this time co-directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise. Though I know nothing about it, Wise is probably more notable for the film, having also worked with Lewton on The Body Snatcher (1945), another classic. What’s so unusual is that the film brings back the primary characters and stars, Simone Simon, Kent Smith, and Jane Randolph to reprise their roles as the love triangle’s primary figures.
But the story picks up several years later, with the couple out of the noirish city and into the more bucolic suburbs, with a daughter, played with great efficacy by the Ann Carter, who was only 7 at the time. The family is the exemplary American family, with their beautiful home, and their idyllic family life, except that daughter Amy is a daydreamer, a loner, and completely in a fantasy world a lot of the time, which ultimately ostracizes her from her peers. Her father takes a pretty harsh tone to her for her fantasies, essentially pushing her to accept “normality”, yelling and ultimately resorting to corporal punishment to “straighten her out”.
The thing is that his first wife, Simon, has returned as a ghost to befriend her. And her fantasies are actually evolving into a reality. That, and her strange friendship with an old woman who was once an actress but is now a crazy kook who has weird issues with her live-in daughter (who she calls a “liar and a fraud” and does not accept as her daughter, claiming that her daughter died at age 6 — actually, this is quite strange and isn’t fully explained, much to the film’s credibility, if you ask me).
The whole thing has a charm and a surreality that is beautiful in its simplicity, yet complex in its emotional appreciation for the world of children and the curse of American conformist culture against the magically bizarre world of fantasy and creativity. It’s got nothing to do with “cat people” other than the characters were all in Cat People and carry forward from that story into something completely different. Yet still, quite amazing in its own way.