The Curse of the Cat People

The Curse of the Cat People is a 1944 American fantasy film[1][2] directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, produced by Val Lewton, and starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, and Jane Randolph. Its plot follows Amy, a young girl who befriends the ghost of her father's deceased first wife, Irena, a Serbian fashion designer who descended from a race of people who could transform into cats. The film, which marks Wise's first directing credit, is a sequel to Cat People (1942) and has many of the same characters. However, it is only tangentially related to its predecessor.

The Curse of the Cat People
Theatrical poster
Directed by
Produced byVal Lewton
Written by
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyNicholas Musuraca
Edited byJ.R. Whittredge
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • March 2, 1944 (1944-03-02)[1]
Running time
70 minutes
CountryUnited States


After the death of his wife Irena (Simone Simon), Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) has married former co-worker Alice Moore (Jane Randolph), and they now have a six-year-old introverted daughter, Amy (Ann Carter). Amy has trouble at school because she spends too much time daydreaming, no matter how much Oliver tries to encourage her to make friends and cope with reality. After Amy finds a photo of the deceased Irena, whose name is never mentioned in the house, Irena appears to her and the two strike up a friendship. At the same time, Amy befriends Julia Farren, an aging actress who is alienated from her own daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell), whom she suspects to be a "spy" only pretending to be her relative. Oliver, angry at Amy for repeatedly speaking of her new imaginary friend, punishes her. When Irena announces to Amy that she must leave her, Amy runs out of the house. A snow storm comes up, and Amy seeks shelter in the Farrens' house. Barbara, angry and jealous about her mother's preference for Amy over her, intends to strangle the girl. At this moment, Amy sees Irena's features in Barbara and embraces her. Barbara, perplexed by this gesture of affection, spares her life. Oliver arrives at the house and takes Amy home, promising to accept her fantasies.



The Curse of the Cat People, which began production at the RKO Gower Street studios in Hollywood on August 26, 1943 and stopped on October 4 of that year, with additional shooting in the week of November 21,[1] marked two directorial debuts. Gunther von Fritsch had only directed short subjects to that time, so the film marked his feature debut, but when he fell behind schedule, having gotten only halfway through the screenplay in the 18 days of filming that had been allocated,[3] the studio assigned film editor Robert Wise to take over, which earned him his first directorial credit.[1] When it wrapped, the film, which had done some location shooting at Malibou Lake, California, was nine days behind schedule, and had cost so much that its budget was raised from $147,000 to $212,000.[1] As was usual with Lewton's films, the tight budget demanded the re-use of sets, here from Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), as had already been done with the predecessor Cat People.

Although sharing some of the same cast and characters and marketed as a sequel to 1942's Cat People, the film has little relationship to the earlier one. RKO studio executives wanted to cash in on the success of the first film, and insisted on keeping the title, despite producer Val Lewton's desire to change it to Amy and Her Friend.[1] Lewton had incorporated elements of his own life into the film, integrating autobiographical details from his childhood, such as the party invitations that are "mailed" by putting them into a hollow tree. Lewton also grew up not far from Tarrytown, where the story is set, and was fond of ghost stories such as "The Headless Horseman" (Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow") which is cited in The Curse of the Cat People.[3]

Studio executives were disappointed when Lewton screened his final cut for them, and insisted on some additional scenes, such as the one of the boys chasing a black cat, being filmed and inserted into the picture. At the same time, some details which were crucial to the plot were lost in the re-editing necessary to accommodate the new scenes.[3]

Production notes

  • Amy's teacher mentions a book, The Inner World of Childhood, which is an actual book written by American psychologist Frances Wickes and published in 1927. Psychology pioneer Carl Jung admired the book, and in 1931 wrote an introduction to it.
  • Irena's lullaby, a musical motif in the score of both this film and Cat People, is an adaptation of the French lullaby Do, do, l'enfant do. The carol Irena sings in counterpoint with Shepherds Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep is the traditional French Christmas carol Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant.
  • The painting in the Reed house which is described as Irena's favorite piece of art is the portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga by Goya.


Critical response

The Curse of the Cat People premiered in February 1944, and was often screened as a double bill with Cat People (1942).[4]

James Agee, for instance, referred to the film's expression of "the poetry and danger of childhood".[3] While Variety rated The Curse of the Cat People as "highly disappointing",[5] The New York Times' Bosley Crowther called it "a rare departure from the ordinary run of horror films [which] emerges as an oddly touching study of the working of a sensitive child's mind".[6]

The film's reputation has grown since its initial release. Film historian William K. Everson found the same sense of beauty at work in The Curse of the Cat People and Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête.[7] Director Joe Dante said that the film's "disturbingly Disneyesque fairy tale qualities have perplexed horror fans for decades", and the film has been utilized in college psychology courses.[3] In 2010, The Moving Arts Film Journal ranked it the 35th greatest film of all time.[8] On Rotten Tomatoes, The Curse of the Cat People holds an approval rating of 90% based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Foregoing the horror thrills of its predecessor in favor of childhood fantasy, Curse of the Cat People is a touching and psychologically complex family film couched in a ghost story."[9]

Home media

The Curse of the Cat People is available as part of the Cat People double feature DVD which itself is part of the Val Lewton Horror Collection DVD box from Warner Home Video. It was also released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in June 2018.

See also


  1. "The Curse of the Cat People". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 5, 2018.
  2. Eggert, Brian (October 22, 2017). "The Curse of the Cat People". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
  3. Stafford, Jeff. "The Curse of the Cat People". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Broadcasting System. Archived from the original on December 21, 2017.
  4. Pitts 2015, p. 68.
  5. Review in Variety, December 31, 1943.
  6. Review in The New York Times, March 4, 1944.
  7. William K. Everson: Classics of the Horror Film. The Citadel Press, 1974.
  8. Archived 2011-01-06 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "The Curse of the Cat People (1945)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved October 25, 2018.


  • Pitts, Michael R. (2015). RKO Radio Pictures Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films, 1929–1956. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46047-2.
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