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CAT GIRL(director: Alfred Shaughnessy; screenwriter: Lou Rusoff; cinematographer: Peter Hennessy; editor: Jocelyn Jackson; cast: Barbara Shelley (Leonora), Robert Ayres (Dr. Marlowe), Kay Callard (Dorothy), Paddy Webster (Cathy), Ernest Milton (Uncle Edmund), Jack May (Richard), Lily Khan (Anna), Johnny Lee (Allan); Runtime: 76; AIP; 1957-UK)
A more-than-acceptable variation of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (42) that is excellent in spots, but lags in its overall pacing.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A more-than-acceptable variation of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (42) that is excellent in spots, but lags in its overall pacing. This AIP quickie, shot in Beaconfield studios, England, features Leonora (Barbara Shelley) in her first major role before becoming a horror film star (The Blood of the Vampire/The Shadow of the Cat/The Gorgon/Prince of Darkness). She is a repressed suburbanite whose cheating husband Richard (Jack May) is having an affair with her friend Cathy (Webster), right under her nose.

Leonora is summoned back to receive her legacy the dreary house in the suburbs of London, where she grew up in when raised by her uncle (Milton). She was asked to come alone but hates the place so much that she brings along her unsympathetic husband and two friends, Cathy and the constantly inebriated Alan (Lee). In the local pub, she stops for a drink and to recollect memories from her childhood before going back home. Dr. Marlowe (Ayres) is the local boy she loved but didn’t marry. She was in a hurry to marry and leave home, and couldn’t wait for him to ask; and, thereby, married someone she didn’t love. But she still loves Marlowe, and is surprised to see him enter the pub. He tells her he is now a psychiatrist in London but keeps a weekend home here and that he is happily married to Dorothy (Callard), whom he wants her to meet. She greets that suggestion with a cold stare.

At Leonora’s house, the dour housekeeper Anna (Lilly Kahn) greets her with the news that her uncle will see her only when she is alone. What he tells Leonora is shocking, that she is not only an heir to the estate but to a family curse. The uncle takes her to a secret room where a leopard is kept and tells her that upon his death she will also inherit the family curse. She will have two separate entities in her: one will be her own–but in the darkness she will be taken over by the leopard and become a ferocious animal, craving for flesh. After Leonora learns by petting the leopard that she has complete control over him, she watches as her uncle wills the leopard to kill him.

Richard and Cathy go for walk on the estate grounds and start kissing. They are spotted by Leonora and the leopard appears, attacking and savagely killing Richard. Leonora, as the symbol of the repressed British female, has now come out of her reticent shell, venting an anger against her unfaithful husband. The scene is marvelously done, as it cuts away from the leopard’s attack to picture Leonora enjoying this revenge.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

Another memorable scene is when the arrogant psychiatrist is convinced that he could treat Leonora but fails to listen to what she tells him, even burning the occult books in her library. The shrink foolishly places his wife in danger by leaving her alone with Leonora. When a leopard appears on the road about to attack Dorothy, the shrink runs it over with his car. What is strange is that Leonora is also lying dead from the impact of the car with a piece of her raincoat on the car fender, even though she was not near the car. With her death, the family curse is gone.

Though imitative of the Tourneur film and not quite as masterfully done, this rarely shown horror film, nevertheless, is worth catching for its dark intensity and the eerie mood it sets.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”