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  Curse of the Cat People, The Unseen Playmate
Year: 1944
Director: Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise
Stars: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March, Sir Lancelot, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell, Erford Gage
Genre: Horror, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: It is a few years since the wife of Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) died in tragic circumstances, and he has since remarried Alice (Jane Randolph). They both have a daughter, Amy (Ann Carter) and she is something of a dreamer who frequently transports herself into her own world of fantasy, much to Oliver and Alice's dismay as Amy just can't seem to make friends. When she slaps a classmate for accidentally crushing a butterfly, Amy's parents visit her teacher, Miss Callahan (Eve March) to see if anything can be done, but Amy's flights of fancy just get worse...

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were little? And did that friend seem to have a life of their own, almost as if they were real? That's the basis for Curse of the Cat People, a semi-sequel to Cat People with also written by DeWitt Bodeen and with some of the same cast, but a very different film in some ways. Oliver is still the sceptic, but now he has a sneaking suspicion that the deceased Irena (Simone Simon) has an influence on Amy from beyond the grave. The film is more of a fantasy than a horror film, there are few of the frights of its predecessor here and although Amy is threatened eventually, Irena is not the source of the fear.

In fact, although Simon is top-billed, Irena doesn't appear until the film is almost halfway over. Until then, we follow the lonely Amy and her struggle between trying to make friends and live up to her father's expectations, and finding solace in make-believe. We are never entirely sure whether she is inventing the apparition of Irena having seen her photograph amongst her father's belongings, or if the cat person is a genuine presence, but the fairy tale quality of the story nods towards the latter. Yet the film is more complex than a simple tale for children.

Nobody shows up for Amy's birthday due to her posting the invitations in a hollow tree in the back garden, and this doesn't make her any more popular with her classmates. When she tries to play with three girls they shun her and run away ("Look! A giraffe!") so she ends up passing by an old house in the neighbourhood and walking through the garden when she hears a voice calling to her. Then a handkerchief floats down from a window, which contains a ring; Amy is pleased with her gift and it's suggested that wishing on this ring for a friend is what brings Irena into her life.

The ring belongs to Mrs Farren (Julia Dean), an elderly actress who just like Amy has her own fantasies to contend with, in this case that her daughter died years ago, and the woman she lives with, Barbara (Elizabeth Russell), is not her daughter but an imposter. Just as Amy's parents fail to support her, Barbara's mother lets her down, but this has made her twisted inside and deeply resentful of Amy when she comes to visit. Curse of the Cat People belies its verging-on-the-sensationalist title to be an eerie, strange and charming production that is understanding towards its characters, while distinguished by a strong sense of melancholia as there's little hint that Amy will be any less solitary after the end. As films about childhood go, it's best suited to those viewers who felt alone while growing up. Music by Roy Webb.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Robert Wise  (1914 - 2005)

Versatile American director, a former editor (he worked on Citizen Kane) who began with some great B-movies (Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Born to Kill) and progressed to blockbusters (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture). He won Oscars for the two musical successes.

Along the way, there were classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, exposes like I Want to Live! and spooky gems like The Haunting. Other films include Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Sand Pebbles, Star!, The Andromeda Strain and Audrey Rose. His last film was Rooftops, another musical.

 
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