Cat People is one of my favorite horror movies, so when I culled together my list of actors/actresses for Summer Under the Stars I wanted to spotlight Simone Simon. Her output isn’t prolific or revolutionary, but her role in Cat People is indelible and I’ve been fascinated by her for years. I recently acquired the Cat People double feature on DVD and figured this would be the perfect time to watch the 1944 sort-of sequel, Curse of the Cat People. A sequel in name only, The Curse of the Cat People tells a bewitching story about the loneliness of childhood, and the mistakes parents make in their children’s lives. I enjoyed this as much as Cat People, but in a new, separate way.
Amy Reed (Ann Carter) is the isolated daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed (Kent Smith and Jane Randolph). Desperate to find friends in order to please her father, Amy conjures up a magical friend named Irena (Simone Simon). Unfortunately, Irena is Oliver’s decease first wife – killed whilst battling the belief that she was a magical cat person. As Amy and Irena bond, this new-found invisible friends place the little girl’s life in danger.
The Curse of the Cat People is a sequel as well as an individual tale wholly separate from the original source of its title. Iconic 1940s movie producer Val Lewton wanted to title this film Amy and Her Friend, but was compelled by the studio to capitalize on the success of 1942’s Cat People, thus the title was changed and the core trio of Smith, Randolph, and Simon were brought back. The cast reunion aside, there are a few connections to the original film: A group of boys attack a black cat; the main character holds a bizarre belief that only she believes in; both films focus on female isolation and motherhood. In Cat People, Irena’s belief in turning into a cat person separated her from her husband. Several theories about the true meaning of the cat people abound, but one included Irena’s fear of sexual consummation and motherhood. The Curse of the Cat People plays up on the motherhood theme through Amy’s relationship with the various people in her life. She’s isolated from her friends; her mother holds no authority in the home and is told “not to interfere” in the discipline of her child.
A key subplot of the movie involves the elderly Mrs. Farren (Julia Dean) and her daughter, Barbara (Val Lewton contract player Elizabeth Russell). Mrs. Farren believes that Barbara is an imposter sent to spy on her, and that the true Barbara died at the age of six – the same age as Amy Reed. Mrs. Farren and Barbara provide an interesting relationship to the film because they feel so lost in the overall story. The theory I worked with is that both women exhibit what Amy could become with improper parenting. She can stay lost in her fantasy world – perpetually child-like – as Mrs. Farren is, or she can be forced to grow up and conform to lying in order to please her parents, leaving her bitter and distant. It is up to Oliver and Alice to change their personalities and how they respond to Amy’s fantasy life. This proves difficult as their characters have learned nothing from their original interactions with Irena. I didn’t believe it possible to hate these two characters more than I did in Cat People, but Alice and Oliver truly prove how much they deserve each other!
Oliver was the All-American boy in the first movie; a waffler who leaves Irena the minute things get tough to shack up with another woman. Here, he’s an intolerant parent that would rather have his daughter lie to him than live in a make-believe world where she’s seemingly happy. In one scene, he threatens Amy with a spanking if she continues to say Irena is around. By threatening her with punishment, you’re only forcing her to lie to avoid that, right? Concurrently, Jane Randolph is pointless in the thankless role of Alice. Anyone could play her somewhat concerned mother who lacks any engagement with her child. In the end, Amy relies on her father and Irena to get her out of certain situations, seemingly emphasizing that Randolph is around for continuity’s sake.
The magical tone of the movie is reminiscent of Rene Clair or similar fantastic directors of the era. It’s said Lewton included autobiographical touches to this film, and he captures childhood perfectly. Ann Carter is astounding in the role of Amy, taking another otherworldly turn after playing Veronica Lake’s enchantress daughter in I Married a Witch. Amy is quiet, reserved, but still precocious and curious. She investigates a house because someone calls to her, and enjoys the company of older people who listen to her and enjoy spending time with her. Kids are cruel, and Amy learns that she doesn’t need them to be happy; it is her parents – and by extension society – that causes her to believe her fairy-world is wrong. Yes, she is isolated, but isn’t childhood supposed to be about believing in the wondrous and fantastic? The invisible friend story could be mined for horror, and Lewton places a few touches that compel you to believe Irena is dangerous, but it’s never enough to move this into horror territory. You understand that Amy is thrust into a confusing world where parents tell you stories about Rapunzel and magical mailboxes in hollow trees, but you’re never expected to believe they’re true. It is this contradiction that leads to the confusion in which Amy finds herself.
This brings us to Simone Simon who literally plays a good fairy/fairy princess as Irena. She’s an angelic presence that, again, could be perceived as evil because she is so ethereal. Standing in the snow in a white cape singing French songs (mind you, her character in the original was Serbian), is almost holy. Simon has friendly chemistry with Amy; she realizes that both are kindred spirits, and while Amy finds comfort in Irena, Irena believes Amy is the afterlife she’s been seeking. In the end, both females are lonely, and feel they’ve lost something they wish to get back, dovetailing with Mrs. Farren and Barbara. Have I mentioned that Jane Randolph and Kent Smith serve no purpose because they stick out like sore thumbs amidst all the glowing compassion?
If you’re seeking the horror found in a Cat People story, you might be disappointed. The Curse of the Cat People is an enchanting, sweet story of childhood friendship and unseen companionship. Ann Carter, Simone Simon, and Elizabeth Russell are amazing while Kent Smith and Jane Randolph are about as good as they were in the original. I enjoyed this on a different level from Cat People, but I also found it to be a fuller story.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.