It's Tim. September marks the centennial of famed director Robert Wise, winner of Oscars for the musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music among several other classic films, and the members of Team Experience are going to spend the next several days revisiting work from the entire range of his career. And what better place to start than at the very beginning: 1944's The Curse of the Cat People, which was Wise's directorial debut, taking over from Gunther V. Fritsch, when the project fell behind schedule. It's part of the legendary run of movies produced by Val Lewton's horror-oriented B-unit at RKO, a studio where Wise had already logged time as an editor (cutting both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, no less). But it's not, itself, a horror movie, despite being the sequel to Cat People, one of the canonically great horror films in history. And despite Wise having a terrific hand for horror, as he'd first prove with his third feature, the Lewton-produced The Body Snatcher.
The Curse of the Cat People is, rather, a sort of psychologically realist fairy tale, taking its title (which RKO forced upon Lewton, though giving him the freedom to make any plot he wanted to under that name) to the most symbolic, abstract extreme possible. It involves Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) and his wife Alice (Jane Randolph), the heroes of the earlier film, moved to the New York suburbs with their six-year-old daughter Amy (Ann Carter), who's having a problem separating fantasy from reality lately. And the audience is forced into having much the same problem, when Amy wishes for a friend and gets one in the form of Irena (Simone Simon), whom devotees of Cat People might recall was Oliver's first wife. The one who transformed into a panther when she got sexually aroused, and is dead now.