Sunday, October 1, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR OCTOBER ON TCM


October is upon us. Whether the icy winds and fall colours are your reality, a memory, or a tantalizing anecdote, at this time of year the heart yearns for stories that are moody in nature. The moodiness may come from a classic horror tale, an edgy film-noir, or perhaps the unexpected and moving fantasy we find in The Curse of the Cat People from 1944.

The story of Amy and her friend springs the story of Irena in Cat People. The surprise 1942 hit for the newly formed Val Lewton unit at RKO is a deftly told tale of classic and psychological horror. Producer/writer Lewton and his team crafted a number of impressive low-budget horror themed films that have stood the test of time, including The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher and Ghost Ship.

In the way of Hollywood it was only a matter of time that there be a follow-up to that initial success and The Curse of the Cat People is a logical title to attract an audience, although somewhat misleading as to the content of the film. Robert Wise received his first directing credit on this film. It is a co-credit with Gunther Von Fritsch, who was replaced, not for creative differences, but for being over time with the project. The clever and emotional screenplay is by DeWitt Bodeen, perhaps in collaboration with Val Lewton, who brought Bodeen to the unit. Nicholas Musuraca was in charge of the evocative cinematography. Roy Webb contributed an achingly lovely score.

Irena Dubrovna played by Simone Simon in Cat People believed herself the victim of an ancient curse in which giving way to her passions would transform her into a panther. For those in Irena's orbit it was impossible to reconcile the idea of magic in the modern world. Her husband, Oliver Reed played by Kent Smith, is sincere, but too troubled to do anything but complicate the situation. Oliver's co-worker at an architectural firm, and more suitable love match, Alice Moore played by Jane Randolph, is supportive which places her in danger. Psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd played by Tom Conway dooms himself with arrogance. Note: this is the same role Conway plays in The Seventh Victim. We can assume the latter story predates the first.



Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Sir Lancelot, Jane Randolph

Irena's death at the end of Cat People leaves Ollie and Alice free to marry. In The Curse of the Cat People we see them in what should be ideal circumstances in Tarrytown with their 6-year-old daughter Amy played by Ann Carter. The comfortable household is attended to by Edward played by calypso singer Sir Lancelot. 

Childhood is not always the easy time we would wish. Parenting, as well, comes naturally to very few. Amy is a solitary, lonely and imaginative girl who does not fit in with her peers. Her kindergarten teacher Miss Callahan played by Eve March is an understanding and sometimes practical adviser to Amy's parents. Some of her ideas are forward thinking, while others sadly fall into line with things better left in the past.

Ollie and Alice may be unconsciously guilty of giving Amy mixed messages in that they share fairy tales. Edward also speaks of magic to Amy. At school, Miss March plays up the legendary aspects of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. They do these things in the adult manner of sharing an entertainment to be enjoyed but not taken seriously. They do not take into account Amy's age, her companionless circumstances and flights of fancy.



Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Kent Smith

Ollie, in particular, is alarmed by Amy's dreamy ways and isolation from other children. He likens it to what he knows as Irena's psychosis. "Amy has too many fancies - too few friends. It worries me. It doesn't seem normal." His efforts to snap Amy out of a dangerous phase takes the unhelpful form of edicts that must be obeyed. Amy truly wants to please her father and be the little girl he considers healthy, but her ability to do so and her efforts are hindered at every turn.



Elizabeth Russell, Julia Dean

The next few months of Amy's life will be dominated by her eagerness to please her father, and two disparate friendships. Amy makes the acquaintance of two women living their own lonely existence in a deteriorating mansion. Mrs. Julia Farren played by Julia Dean is a former actress reliving past glories. Mrs. Farren takes an imperious and cold attitude toward her daughter Barbara played by Elizabeth Russell. Mrs. Farren goes so far as to call Barbara an impostor, claiming her daughter actually died while still a youngster. Is this mere spite, an eccentricity, an illness? Life must be torture in the rambling old house.



Simone Simon, Ann Carter

Amy has wished for a friend, and a friend has come to her. Her friend takes the form of Irena, whose picture Amy has found in a drawer. Irena is beautiful and sweet. She plays with Amy in the garden. She comforts her at night when she is troubled. When Amy asks Irena where she came from, Irena replies "I come from great darkness and deep tears."

Irena fills the role of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Unseen Playmate as quoted by Miss Callahan in the movie.

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are lonely and happy and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

The Christmas holiday time is filled with charming scenes in the film, warm family moments and trauma. The trauma is in the form of corporal punishment from an at-wits-end Ollie, and the trauma is felt by both father and daughter.



Ann Carter

Amy runs from her home and her journey on a stormy night takes her further in emotional growth than the physical traipse from her home to that of the Farrens where the night will end in a mix of magic and fate, or perhaps the magic of fate.


TCM is screening The Curse of the Cat People on Friday the 13th at 6:45 pm, the concluding feature in a day devoted to films focusing on children and the supernatural. Among the great performances given by children in film, Ann Carter as dear, lonely Amy must be deemed one of the finest.








12 comments:

  1. A marvelous film about childhood, which has a haunting dream-like quality at times. I think its title probably keeps people from watching it; otherwise, it would be better known.

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    1. The title leads the audience to expect something different, but this movie on its own is very special and unique.

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  2. A wonderful film that works on multiple levels, as a meditation on childhood, an ethereal fantasy, and an eerie mix of fairytale elements and horror. One of the best of the Val Lewton cycle. As you noted in your fine review, Ann Carter is excellent. Great choice!

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    1. Thank you so much. One of the joys of blogging is finding others who share your passion for certain films.

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  3. Thanks for the lovely review -- I saw the original but need to see this one. Calendar marked!

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    1. So pleased. I think it will touch you.

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  4. Reminds me I have not seen this in along time. Will have to seek it out again.

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    1. It is one of those movies that is worth the re-watch.

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  5. I remember watching this film for the first time shortly after having seen The Cat People and thinking how off-track it seemed from the usual 1940s horror films that were being released. You don't find too many pictures dealing with invisible friends, and rarely in the horror genre!

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    1. The title is truly at odds with the film, and it took until my second viewing to truly appreciate this on its on. The Val Lewton unit continually impresses me.

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