Film Review: The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Also known as: Amy and Her Friend (working title)
Release Date: March 3rd, 1944 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen, Val Lewton (uncredited)
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March

RKO Radio Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“Children love to dream things up.” – Miss Callahan

This motion picture has the strange distinction of being a non-horror sequel to a horror film.

The Curse of the Cat People is a followup to the 1942 film Cat People. Where the original was a story about a woman who was a werecat, this one is about her spirit becoming best friends with a little girl. This really has nothing to do with cats or werecats. Although, there is a black cat briefly in a scene.

This was one of the films produced by Val Lewton when he was making horror pictures for RKO in an effort to capitalize off of the low budget horror films that Universal had great success with. This could have been its own movie without the Cat People element even added in but I guess it served its marketing purpose, which was to piggyback off of the previous film’s success for RKO.

Simone Simon, the werecat from the first film, returns to play the ghost of her character. Her ex-husband, played by Kent Smith, is also in this. So there is an actual character link to the previous film.

Amy, a little girl, has a hard time connecting to other kids socially and is sort of an outcast. She also has a vivid imagination. When Simone Simon’s Irena appears to befriend the girl, no one wants to believe Amy.

Like other Lewton produced features for RKO, this one has beautiful cinematography and a sort of enchanting allure. It is a magical picture and you do get wrapped up in the proceedings, even though they are very simplistic and straightforward.

Ann Carter, who plays the young Amy, was very good in this and proved to be a child actor with much more skill than most of the kids of that era. She had to carry the picture and she did a fine job. She was lovable, sweet and sad. But she wasn’t chirpy, didn’t over-act and felt right at home alongside a cast of adults.

The film was directed by Robert Wise, who did several horror pictures for RKO, as well as the great boxing noir The Set-Up, the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still and dozens of other movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Val Lewton produced films for RKO: Cat PeopleI Walked With a ZombieThe Leopard ManThe Seventh VictimThe Ghost ShipThe Body SnatcherIsle of the Dead and Bedlam.

Film Review: Dark Waters (1944)

Release Date: November 21st, 1944
Directed by: Andre De Toth
Written by: Marian B. Cockrell, Joan Harrison, Arthur Horman
Based on: The Saturday Evening Post serial Dark Waters by Francis M. Cockrell, Marian B. Cockrell
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Elisha Cook Jr.

Benedict Bogeaus Productions, United Artists, 90 Minutes

Review:

Dark Waters is a film that feels like it could have been touched by Val Lewton while he was producing a slew of B-movies over at RKO but this was put out by United Artists around the same time and falls below the quality of those great Lewton pictures. Still, if you like Lewton’s work at RKO, this has a similar tone and feel to it, which is why I decided to watch it after I stumbled upon it.

A woman survives a submarine attack and returns home to the bayous of Louisiana to recuperate. Her aunt and uncle are up to something strange though and thus, we get a story about gangsters in the swamp. It sounds intriguing but the film is fairly boring, at least until the finale, which is decent.

Growing up in Southwest Florida on the Gulf Coast and living in a very similar environment to the bayous of Louisiana, I have always felt a piece of home in pictures that take place there. Plus I had family around New Orleans, when I was a kid, and have always loved spending time there. So when something takes place in the bayou, I feel a sense of real familiarity, just like when something takes place in the Everglades.

The environment, while it looks good on film here, isn’t enough to carry the picture. Everything falls pretty flat and it doesn’t matter that the accomplished Andre De Toth is behind the camera or that the majestic melodies of Miklós Rózsa created a very good soundtrack.

Dark Waters isn’t a total waste of time, it’s an okay way to kill ninety minutes but then again, there are much better movies you could watch instead, especially in the noir style.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Woman In the Window (1944)

Release Date: November 3rd, 1944
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Nunnally Johnson
Based on: Once Off Guard by Georges de La Fouchardière
Music by: Arthur Lange
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, Dan Duryea

International Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you’re penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be known to the world. Or you can kill him.” – Richard Wanley

Before the noir classic Scarlett Street, the same team made this movie just a year earlier. In fact, as much as I like Scarlett Street, I would actually have preferred this film to it if not for the lame ending it gave us. It certainly had my attention a lot more than Scarlett Street but due to the time it was made, the morality censors had to make this movie a stupid dream sequence, wiping away the really dark ending that should have capped off the picture without the goofy twist.

I don’t blame Fritz Lang or the stellar cast for the ending though and up until that bizarre moment, The Woman In the Window really is a fantastic film.

Edward G. Robinosn, who has grown to be one of my favorite actors of all-time, has a remarkable chemistry with Joan Bennett. Also, Bennett has great chemistry with Dan Duryea. She works really well with both men and is sort of the glue in these pictures that star all three.

Joan Bennett is also otherworldly alluring in this picture, which may be intentional as the story is a dream and she even plays the part kind of deadpan, like a beautiful specter in the night. She is somehow ghostly emotionless, even while displaying emotion. It is hard to peg her and her character’s motivations. Does she want Robinson to kill the violent man, to free her from him, or was she really just trying to help him survive the attack in her home? You never really understand her point-of-view, which is actually a good thing in this movie. Is she a true femme fatale, clever and manipulative, or is she just a victim of circumstance, a typical damsel in distress?

Getting to the plot itself, it follows Robinson, as he sends his wife and kids off to New York for the summer. Soon after, he meets Joan Bennett next to a painting of her. Robinson seems like a good guy, even though he does go to her apartment for a drink. Once there, he is attacked by an ex-lover and kills him in self-defense. Robinson and Bennett agree to do away with the body and go their separate ways, as they are practically strangers anyway. Robinson then gets pulled into the investigation of the murder, as his best friend is a district attorney. Bennett then gets blackmailed by Dan Duryea’s character, who knows that she has an association with the murdered man. It’s a well layered plot with good twists and turns.

The cinematography is handled by Milton Krasner, who also worked on Lang’s Scarlett Street the following year. There is a real visual and atmospheric consistency between the two pictures. Krasner also worked on other notable film-noir pictures and some of the films from the Universal Monsters franchise. A few of his many credits are: The House of Seven GablesThe Invisible Man ReturnsThe Ghost of FrankensteinThe Invisible Man’s RevengeThe Dark MirrorThe Set-Up and Rawhide.

The Woman In the Window is a fine picture. I hated the ending but I kind of just ignore it and enjoyed the ride up until that point.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Also known as: Farewell, My Lovely (UK)
Release Date: December 9th, 1944
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.” – Philip Marlowe

I watched this Philip Marlowe picture back-to-back with The Big Sleep in an effort to compare the two Marlowe pictures and the two Marlowes: Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart. Plus, both films had the distinction of being remade three decades later with Robert Mitchum playing Marlowe in both of those movies.

Murder, My Sweet is a really good motion picture. It isn’t quite as good as The Big Sleep, though. But this definitely fits in with the style and tone of an RKO noir movie. Some people prefer this to The Big Sleep but it’s hard to top Bogart for me, especially as a private detective. Although, Powell feels more like Philip Marlowe from a literary standpoint.

Claire Trevor is pretty good in this and I liked her chemistry with Powell, even if it pales in comparison to Bogart and Bacall. The acting was top notch and these two brought their best to the table and delivered. I really enjoyed Anne Shirley the most, however. She was cute and quirky and just a lot of fun on screen.

One really cool thing about this film were the visual effects every time Marlowe got knocked unconscious. A liquid black pool would come into the frame and wash away the scene. There was also a good amount of visual flair used in the hallucination sequences. I was surprised to see how trippy this movie was, especially for something from the 1940s. It predates yet reminds me of some of the trippy sequences from Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

I also love the dialogue in this film. It is a quintessential film-noir in that regard. Powell and Trevor just trade quick witty jabs back and forth, in what is a true display of that savvy and savory noir conversational style.

Otto Kruger also makes a good villainous character. In my opinion, he steals the scenes he’s in. He just has a presence and an air about him that is pretty uncanny. Mike Mazurki plays Moose Malloy, the film’s heavy and the muscle of Kruger’s Amthor. The physical exchange between Powell, Mazurki and Kruger is one of the best of the classic noir era.

Murder, My Sweet is a solid and fun picture. Noir films aren’t typically fun, most are dark and brooding, but this injects a lightheartedness into the style. It isn’t as heavy as other films like it and since I’ve been watching a lot of noir, as of late, this was a nice break from the moodier tone that’s typical of the style.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Laura (1944)

Release Date: October 11th, 1944
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt, Ring Lardner Jr. (uncredited)
Based on: Laura by Vera Caspary
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

20th Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” – Waldo Lydecker

I was talking to my mum about noir pictures and she told me that this was one of her favorites. We actually came to talk about it while also discussing Vincent Price, a favorite actor of mine. Wanting to work my way through Otto Preminger’s films, this has been in my queue on the Criterion Channel for a bit. So I decided to check it out and because I also like the rest of the cast, especially Dana Andrews.

The fact that I hadn’t seen this yet, is surprising. Granted, my mum may have had it on when I was a kid and I was too busy killing Optimus Prime with my Megatron figure for the 142nd time.

Also, all I knew of Otto Preminger, back then, was that he was one of the three actors to play Mr. Freeze on the 1960s Batman television show. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered he was an accomplished director and a real auteur.

Laura is quite exceptional and a great example of Preminger’s style. It has alluring camerawork and amazing tracking shots. It also utilizes some quick edits, such as a sweeping tracking shot going from one subject to another and then cutting right back to the first subject. While this isn’t a big deal by today’s standards, it was a pretty unique and nontraditional approach to shooting, at the time. But film-noirs were very experimental and tried a lot of new things, Preminger being one of the directors that really led the charge.

Like a typical noir, the film uses a high contrast but the lavish interiors of most of the sets keeps things less dark and gritty than many other pictures in the genre. Granted, the narrative and tone are dark but it exists in contrast to the opulence and elegance that lives on the screen and captures the saucy New Yorkers that populate this mystery tale.

The film also employs a small cast and everyone plays their part to perfection. It was really cool seeing a young Vincent Price in this but the film was really carried by the strong performances from Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb.

Andrews was the debonair and clever detective and I think he would’ve made a perfect Batman in the 1940s. Tierney really owned her role as the title character and did a fine job of luring in the males of the picture. Webb, however, was the real meat and potatoes of the picture. I loved his character and he was a real cantankerous fussy pot, for lack of a more fitting description.

This was a great film-noir with a lot of layers to it. It has a major shocking twist that really flipped the film on its head in the best way possible. Preminger created a visual and narrative treasure, a film that is a great monument to the noir style, even if the picture takes some of its own liberties that propel it away from a few specific genre tropes.

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Release Date: April 24th, 1944
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler
Based on: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, John Philliber

Paramount Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see this classic film noir Academy Award winner on the big screen. I had actually never seen it, so it was cool experiencing it in its intended format while viewing it for the first time.

The story sees an insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and a black widow femme fatale type Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) conspire to fraudulently take out an accident insurance policy on her husband and to then murder him, taking advantage of the double indemnity clause to double their money. There are a lot of twists and turns and if anything, this film builds a lot of suspense, as you never really know how it will pan out, even though Neff starts the film by recording his confession for his boss at the insurance company.

The film is told as a flashback, as Neff recalls, in full detail, all the events that led him to his confession. It goes through his sinister plan with a fine tooth comb and shows how he adapts to the changing situations. Eventually, we learn the true nature of both of our main characters, as they are seemingly pitted against one another. Paranoia and new conspiracies arise and, as can be expected with how the film starts, things go really south.

The plot was well written, well paced and executed on screen almost flawlessly. No stone was left unturned and it was intelligently crafted, leaving no room for any glaring plot holes.

The use of contrast and lighting in the film was stellar. It certainly had the standard noir look but the stylistic flourishes such as the Spanish style home of the Dietrichsons and the insurance office added a lot of depth and character to the picture.

The acting was absolutely fantastic across the board. MacMurray and Stanwyck had an uncanny chemistry. Jean Heather was sweet, innocent and lovable. Tom Powers, as Mr. Dietrichson, had the right balance of being a curmudgeon and a jerk but not so much so that, as a spectator, you couldn’t justify his murder. The show stealer however, was Edward G. Robinson as Neff’s boss Barton Keyes. Robinson was the brightest spot in this starlit motion picture.

Double Indemnity is a fine film in every regard. I’ve liked the work of Billy Wilder my whole life and this picture just adds more credibility to his massive and incredible oeuvre.

Film Review: I Accuse My Parents (1944)

Release Date: November 4th, 1944
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Arthur Caesar, Harry L. Fraser, Marjorie Dudley
Music by: Lee Zahler
Cast: Robert Lowell, Mary Beth Hughes, George Meeker, John Mijan, Vivienne Osborne

Producers Releasing Corporation, 68 Minutes

Review:

I Accuse My Parents is a fairly poor film but it is actually engaging. It benefits from the fact that it is only 68 minutes because it would have been hard to remain engaged beyond that. It is also a film that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and honestly, if you’re going to watch this, watch that version. Joel and the Bots make the movie more entertaining.

The film deals with the trend of juvenile delinquency, which was a big issue in the 1940s, for some reason. Mostly, it focuses on the effects of childhood neglect. The main character accuses his parents because their disinterest in his life causes him to go down a dark road where he finds himself on trial for manslaughter.

I Accuse My Parents is an exploitation morality picture. Back in the day, Hollywood used to like to make these sorts of things. The film industry was America’s big busybodies and they had to tell people how to live. Granted, Hollywood still tries to dictate their philosophical and political views but at least there is a lot more freedom in filmmaking and more than one point-of-view.

The film is very basic in its delivery. It is straightforward, the acting isn’t good but it isn’t bad, it is shot without any real artistic flourishes and it doesn’t provide the audience anything controversial or at the very least, it doesn’t have any surprises. It is quite simply Hollywood’s version of a “basic bitch”. It exists and has no idea what the word “potential” means.

The reason why I consider it engaging, is that these old Hollywood morality films play like some bizarre relic from a time when Americana was all about do-gooder white folks and their picket fence suburban fantasies. These films are just interesting to watch in spite of themselves. Granted, this is no Reefer Madness but it fits in the same sort of box.