Saturday, October 17, 2020

Stubs - The Curse of the Cat People

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter and Sir Lancelot. Directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise. Produced by Val Lewton. Screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen. Run time: 70 minutes. USA Black and White. Fantasy, Horror.

Following the success of Cat People, RKO wanted to make a follow-up. While Cat People can be stretched to call it a little h horror film, the sequel that was made, The Curse of the Cat People, is more Fantasy than anything really scary.

The film takes place in Tarrytown and the children are playing in what is known as Sleepy Hollow, the setting for Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which features the headless horseman.

A boy kills the butterfly that Amy considers her friend.

On her sixth birthday, Amy Reed (Ann Carter) is on a field trip with her class. Amy has a vivid imagination and oftentimes gets lost in thought. Lonely, she imagines that a butterfly is her friend. While chasing it, one of her classmates uses his cap to catch the butterfly, killing it in the process. It’s hard to know if he did this deliberately or not. However, distraught, Amy slaps him.

Miss Callahan (Eve March aka Adelyne Doyle) has a parent-teacher conference
with Amy's (Ann Carter) parents, Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph).

This act prompts a parent-teacher conference between Amy’s parents, Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph), and Miss Callahan (Eve March aka Adelyne Doyle). Oliver is especially concerned because Amy’s behavior reminds him of his first wife Irena (Simone Simon), who was mad.

No children show up for Amy's birthday party.

At home, they are prepared for Amy’s birthday party, but are distraught that no children show up. 

When Oliver calls one of the parents, he finds that they didn’t receive invitations. When Oliver and Alice quiz their Jamaican manservant Edward (Sir Lancelot) about the invitations, he says he let Amy mail them. Relying on a story her father told her when she was three, she placed the invitations in a tree stump that he had told her was a magic mailbox.

The next day, when her parents send her out to play with the other children, they don’t want to play with her. The excuse they give is that she didn’t invite them to her birthday party. She runs after them but pauses at the gate of an old house that the other kids think is haunted. An old woman’s voice beckons the girl into the garden. From the window, the woman, Mrs. Julia Farren (Julia Dean), drops a ring wrapped in a handkerchief down to the girl. Amy takes the ring but Barbara Farren (Elizabeth Russell), Julia’s daughter or housekeeper, quickly comes out of the house and takes the handkerchief back.

When Amy returns home and tells her father about the voice from the window, he refuses to believe her. Amy inexplicably doesn’t show him the ring as evidence. Amy's mother disagrees with his assessment of their daughter and the two argue. Amy shows the ring to Edward and he tells her that it reminds him of a wishing ring and encourages her to make a wish with it.

Out in the garden, Amy wishes for a friend. Suddenly, leaves begin to fall from the trees, the light glistens and Amy begins to run and play with her imaginary friend.

Edward (Sir Lancelot) is the Reed family's Jamaican manservant.

That night, Alice tells Amy that she must return the ring, and the next day, she tells her to have Edward walk her over to the Farren house. However, when she tells Edward, he tells her that she can go by herself.

On the way, she passes Miss Callahan, who is biking by. Miss Callahan goes in to talk with her parents while Amy goes on her errand.

Alice befriends Julia Farren (Julia Dean), who
lives in a house the other kids consider haunted.

When she goes back, she finally meets Julia, who insists that her daughter is dead and that Barbara is an imposter. She doesn’t want to take the ring back, insisting it is a gift. Back home, the Reeds finally realize that Amy is gone by herself and dispatch Edward to retrieve her. As the theatrical Julia terrifies Amy with the story of the headless horseman, Edward arrives to take the little girl home.

That night, Amy has a nightmare about the headless horseman and calls to her friend to comfort her.

Summoned by Amy's call, a gentle wind followed by a shadow enters the room.

The next morning, Amy finds an old photo of Irena in a desk drawer. She recognizes her as her friend. When she goes into the garden and calls to her friend, Irena appears.

Irena (Simone Simon) lights up the night sky for Amy.

Fall passes into winter and on Christmas Eve, when carolers come to the house, Amy slips out of the house to present Irena with her gift. Irena reciprocates with lighting up the night sky, but is interrupted when Amy is called back into house.

On Christmas, Amy, this time with Edward in tow, takes a gift she has for Julia, who delights in the little girl's visit, while, once again, denouncing her own daughter.

Miss Callahan becomes a constant presence at the Reed's house.

That night, Amy finds a photo of Oliver and Irena and announces that the woman in the picture is her friend. Alarmed, Oliver accompanies Amy out to the garden and tells her to summon her friend. When Amy insists that Irena is standing under a tree, Oliver, who never looks for himself, punishes the little girl. When Alice tries to protest, Miss Callahan, who is hanging around the house quite a lot, tells her not to interfere.

Amy runs away from home to look for Irena.

As Amy, chastened, sobs in her room, Irena appears and tells her that she must leave forever. After bidding Amy farewell, Irena disappears into the shadows. But Amy doesn’t want her to go and goes looking for Irena. Amy sneaks out of the house and wanders into the woods, just past the garden, just as snow begins to fall.

Amy's teacher, Miss Callahan, has been visiting the family and disagrees with Oliver's punishment of his daughter, urging him instead to become the little girl's friend. When Oliver goes to Amy's room to apologize, he discovers that she is missing. After Miss Callahan calls the state police, they begin to search the woods.

Meanwhile, Amy, who is now caught in a raging blizzard, remembers the story of the headless horseman and hears hoofbeats in the distance. Amy cringes in fear as the sound of hoofbeats turns into the rattling of an old car, sending the little girl scurrying off the road and eventually to the Farren house for refuge.

Barbara, Julia's daughter tires of her mother's doting on Amy.

Barbara, who has tired of how her mother dotes on the girl while disowning her, vows to kill Amy if she returns to the house, and consequently, when Amy knocks at the door, Julia tries to hide her upstairs. However, Julia can’t make it up the stairs and collapses and dies.

Julia tries to escape upstairs but dies on the stairs.

Amy is scared and even more so when Barbara, ever menacing, appears at the foot of the stairs and advances towards the little girl, who calls for her friend. In Amy's eyes, the image of Barbara is replaced with that of Irena, and the child embraces her, which disarms Barbara, who hugs the child back.

At that moment, her parents and the police arrive at the house and Oliver promises to be Amy's friend and accept her imaginary companions. No longer needed, Irena disappears.

Okay, there’s a ghost in the film, but she is more a spirit than anything else. The haunted house turns out not to be so and there is nothing really scary about the film other than the bad parenting by Oliver and Alice. They seem never to know where Amy is nor do they actually take steps to find her. Until the end, they often send Edward out to find her. I found it interesting that when the parents do finally take on the search for themselves, Edward is suddenly absent, though Miss Callahan is right there.

All throughout the film, neither Oliver or Alice really listen to Amy, always assuming the worst and punishing her for telling the truth. I don’t think either character would be nominated for parent of the year. Even worse, they make Edward responsible for taking care of her, and he doesn’t do a very good job with it either. As an example, he would rather clean Oliver’s little model sailing ships than take Amy to the Farren house, which he has been told to do. No wonder Amy is a mess.

The film is surprisingly quite predictable, which is not a good thing. As an example, I guessed that Amy had put the birthday invitations in a tree stump before it is revealed that that is what she did with them.  When it’s not being predictable, the film is woefully incoherent.

As an example, Amy is six years old, but Oliver still has photos of Irena in an easily accessible drawer. Giving them the benefit of the doubt and that they’ve been married for at least seven years and have moved at least once, it’s hard to believe that Alice wouldn’t know that these photos exist and even more so that Oliver would insist on keeping them. Even when Alice asks him to burn them, he squirrels one away in the photo album. Why the obsession, Oliver?

And the subplot with Barbara and her mother goes nowhere. Julia makes accusations that her daughter is not her daughter, but those are left on the table as a sign that the old lady is crazy. And would Barbara really want to kill a little girl? That seems like an extreme stance to take. Further, Barbara doesn’t seem at all emotional when her mother dies. Neither is Amy, who was with her when she does. I would think someone who had nightmares based on an old actress recounting a local legend would be scarred for life. The film really doesn’t do anything with this storyline except pad the run time.

Irena comforts Amy in The Curse of the Cat People.

And then there is Irena. Why is she Amy’s imaginary friend? You might think Irena has some ulterior motive, but she doesn’t. Are things so bad in the afterlife that a grown woman would want to spend her time frolicking with a young girl who has no relation to her? There seems to be something there that this film doesn’t tap into. I know they brought back the character to make the link to the original film, but it seems unmotivated in context. I would have liked Irena to have said something that might have explained her presence. Clearly, she heeded Amy’s wish for a friend, but why?

Clearly, this is not a good film. Ann Carter is perhaps the best thing in the film and even she seems a little stiff reciting some dialogue that I’m pretty sure no child would have ever said in real life. Carter, who appeared in several films during her 11-year career, didn’t appear in what would be considered kids movies. Perhaps the best-known film she appeared in besides Curse would have been The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947).

So, in summary, I would not recommend The Curse of the Cat People, unless you’re like me and happen to come across it after having watched Cat People. The flaws in the original pale by comparison with those in this film. This might have been the directorial debut of Robert Wise, who is a co-director, but it is not an impressive start to his career. The best way to avoid the curse is to avoid this movie at all costs.

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