DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, THE (directors: Gunther V. Fritsch/Robert Wise; screenwriter: De Witt Bodeen; cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: J.R. Whittredge; music: Roy Webb; cast: Simone Simon (Irena), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Jane Randolph (Alice Reed), Ann Carter (Amy Reed), Edmond (Sir Lancelot), Julia Dean (Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (Barbara Farren); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Val Lewton; RKO; 1944)

 
"No curses or Cat People."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sequel to Val Lewton's psychological-horror classic Cat People (1942) that's told from the child's viewpoint and is about the six-year-old girl's fantasies; the same characters are cast in similar roles, but there were no curses or Cat People. Lewton's film is more of a family drama than a horror story as he made a film about the difficulties of childhood and parenting, drawing on his own childhood experience and the difficulties he had as a father with his own troubled daughter. Documentary filmmaker Gunther V. Fritsch was chosen to direct, but after 18 days of scheduled shooting, he was far behind schedule and he was replaced with second unit director Robert Wise ("West Side Story"). It left Wise in a ticklish spot, as he worked for Fritsch. But Lewton told him that Fritsch was out whether he accepts or not, and the rest is history as Wise went on to establish himself as one of Hollywood's great directors and Fritsch retreated to oblivion.

After the death of his troubled wife Irena (Simone Simon), who lived in a delusional fantasy world and killed a man then herself, naval architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) married Alice Moore (Jane Randolph) and they have a young daughter named Amy (Ann Carter). She's a lonesome child who lives in a fantasy world and this troubles her father, worried that she'll turn out mad like his former wife. When he tries to get her to make friends with the neighboring children in Tarrytown, they spurn her. While running away from the hostile children Amy comes to the house of an old woman, a former actress, Julia Farren (Julia Dean), and she's beckoned into the garden because she's reminded of her own deceased six-year-old child. From the window Mrs. Farren drops a handkerchief with a ring, but the woman's sad and unfriendly grownup daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell) grabs away the handkerchief and Amy runs home with the ring. The demented Mrs. Farren calls her daughter an impostor and is only her caretaker, saying her real daughter died as a small girl. This leaves Barbara embittered, as she can't get her mother to give her maternal love even though she tries hard to win her over. It also angers her that her mother offers all her love to the strange girl.

At home Amy plays in the garden and wishes into a wishing well for a friend. With that the landscape begins to magically change as leaves begin to fall from the trees, the light glistens and Amy plays with her new imaginary friend who has a French accent. Later she discovers a photo of Irena in the house and claims that's her friend. Alice orders Amy to return the ring, but Mrs. Farren refuses to take back the gift and entertains the girl by telling her the tale of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"--which is the most frightening scene in the film as it relates to the Headless Horseman, but its fright is only aimed at children.

When Amy persists in relating to her invisible friend, her stuffy father punishes her with a beating. But she runs away and winds up at Mrs. Farren's house. Fearing that Barbara will harm the child, Mrs. Farren takes the child up the staircase to hide her but in the excitement dies of a heart attack. Barbara now plans to kill the child but when Amy calls on her imaginary friend and utters "My friend," Barbara mistakenly thinks it's directed at her and hearing those warm words her heart melts and the lonely woman changes her mind about killing the child. That's when Amy's father and the police arrive, who were searching for her. The last scene has the father pretending to believe he also sees Irena and thereby reconciles with his lonely daughter. When Amy receives real love, it no longer becomes necessary for her invisible friend to exist. 

It's interesting to note, that the name Amy takes root in the French word meaning "friend." The film never really reveals if it was a ghost who befriended the lonely child or if was merely a figment of her imagination. What is not ambiguous is the sensitive telling of the simple tale that points out the way guilt, fear and daydreaming can arise from isolation, mistrust and misunderstanding and cause a child to withdraw into a fantasy world.

REVIEWED ON 1/10/2007        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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