The Curse of the Cat People is a particularly good example of Lewton’s ability to produce a film which would satisfy the demands of the studio (who wanted a sequel to Cat People) as well as his own personal requirements. A gentle and (in the best sense) sentimental movie, its tone is less uniformly dark, its content less ‘horrific’, than Cat People’s, but there are narrative and, more importantly, thematic links with the earlier film.
The story centres on Amy (Ann Carter), the six year-old daughter of Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph), the characters of Cat People who apparently married after the death of Oliver’s first wife, Irena. An only child, repressed by her over-protective parents, Amy constructs a fantasy world to escape her loneliness. Her father worries about this, particularly when Amy speaks of her (imaginary) playmate, whom she believes to be Irena. Oliver believes that his child is unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy, but (as in the previous film) he is more at fault in this respect. Obsessed by memories of Irena, he seems to fear that there is a curse of the cat people.
The movie’s true richness lies in the correlation between the main plot and a sub-plot about a second parent-child relationshipothat between an old ex-stage actress, Julia, and the daughter, Barbara, who lives with her. When Amy visits them, Barbara becomes envious of the affection her mother shows to the little girl. Our attention is drawn to the similarities between Amy and Barbara, both looking for a love and trust they do not receive from their respective parents. The film’s two plots converge beautifully in the climax, when Amy mistakes Barbara for her friend Irena, and Barbara’s menacing gesture to the girl turns to one of affection. The two children memorably find the love for which they have been searchingoin each other. Curse of the Cat People is a delicate yet incisive study of predominantly female relationships, of the problems of lonely children, and of the dreams and desires for friendship and love that we all have. It is one of Lewton’s finest works.
Directors: Gunther von Fritsch,
Black and white.