Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)

Apparently in the afterlife, you're made to dress as if you were
in the school play....
"You don't know about this woman, my first wife Irena. You don't know what happened to her just because she told lies to herself and believed them."

1) And here we have, yet again, another film that couldn't have been made in the here and now, simply because this film chooses to move forward from the original while violently changing its tone away from a horror and into a family fantasy steeped in psychology and fairy tale mythology. Hell, I wonder how they pulled it off back in 1944.

2) Maybe it was her accent, but after watching this I wonder why Simone Simon didn't have a larger career. She's got this definite charisma that draws your eye, and even though she has a very small part, the scenes she's in she just dominates.

(Update: After hearing the commentary, it turns out Simone Simon didn't have a larger career because she was a nasty, complaining lil' nit....)

3) I love how the script by DeWitt Bodeen (with uncredited assists from producer Val Lewton) seeds the story with a number of fairy-tale analogs that help emphasizes that this story is a fantasy about story telling. Mrs. Farrin's house, in particular, is unapologetically the movie's witch's house...although the script flips the story elements so that it's Elizabeth Russell's Barbara and not old Mrs. Farrin who's the witch....
She may live in a witch house, but this is not the witch...

4) God, do I love Nicholas Musuraca's cinematography. It totally plays to Lewton's sensibilities, and many of the visual compositions--like the sequences where we see how Ann Carter's Amy segues from the real world to the fantasy one occupied by Irena--are breathtaking.

5) Okay, let's get the biggest weakness out of the way...I recognize that Ann Carter's performance as Amy is in keeping with the standard of child actors of the day, and that this breathy, recitation-style of emoting was acceptable back then. But, to be fair, it does not age well, and in the modern age her performance can grate, as can....

6) ...for different reasons, Sir Lancelot as Edward, the Reed's butler/cook. Edward, quite frankly, is ever-present, talks in a pronounced accent and seems to be, well, not very competent in his job. I'd almost assume that Edward is a comic relief character except that he's treated totally seriously--even with respect by the Reeds. It's a weird performance, weirdly written that might have made sense at the time but now makes no sense.

7) It's to the credit of Lewton as a producer that he uses major footage shot from two separate directors....yet the film itself looks seamless, especially when you look at scenes where shots from both Gunther Von Fritsch and Robert Wise are intergrated in the same scene.
The real hero of this production may very well be Nicholas
Musuraca's cinematography....

8) Another thing I don't think they could get away with if they remade this--much like in the original, this film never commits one way or another, leaving it to the audience to decide if what they're watching is just a figment of Amy's imagination or an actual ghost story.

9) Even though this film does carry over many characters from the original, the most intriguing figure has to be Elizabeth Russell's Barbara Farrin. I won't go so far as to say that Russell, who appeared as Irena's countrywoman in the original, was beautiful--but she certainly was striking, and I like how the film may give us visual cues to make us think of Barbara as the real witch in this movie's witch house...yet seems to have a strange bit of sympathy for her, never letting us forget that her madness and extreme actions come out of living as an outcast from her mother's love.

10) I like how this film not only completes Amy's character arc--allowing her to integrate her imaginary life with her real life in a way that makes her a fully functioning person--but Oliver's--allowing him to finally accept what happened to his first wife and making unafraid to discuss her.

Overall...while prolly not what people who saw the original expected, a wonderful and unexpected little psychological fantasy that takes elements of the first story and builds on them to create something unique.

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