The Curse of the Cat People

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Horror;
$22.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Simone Simon, Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Jane Randoph.

One can assume that even had The Godfather or The Sound of Music carried a moniker like The Curse of the Cat People, most of both Oscar winners’ huge “bases” (as our president likes to say) would have rather cleaned hair out of sink drains than see it. And yet, even viewers without the slightest idea of who producer Val Lewton was have stumbled into Curse while channel surfing and found this haunter about a lonely young girl and her unusual made-up friend (even as these things go) to be surprisingly schlock-less, thoughtful, and in its own hallucinatory way, psychologically credible.

The reality was, however, that RKO wanted a cash-cow sequel to 1942’s Cat People after that one’s prodigious (and surprise) box office returns had helped offset the rude revenue losses of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and especially The Magnificent Ambersons (pause here to throw your arms up in negative wonderment). Thus, some title-oriented carnival barking was thought to be in order as a reminder to audiences that the new picture had at least a tangential relationship with the previous Lewton-Simone Simon-Kent Smith-Jane Randolph collaboration, which remains one of the true Hollywood milestones of the war years, on its way many decades later to 2016 Criterion treatment.

The ploy, alas, didn’t work — something that picture-stealing Ann Carter notes herself in Scream Factory’s bonus section radio interview with the actress, recorded not too long before her death. Those expecting cats, curses and at least a little terror got instead a story about a quiet youngster residing with her mother, father and housekeeper/cook in a manicured back-lot kind of neighborhood apparently untouched by World War II (the movie came out about two months before D-Day). She’s hardly a rebel yet more times than not is shunned by other kids in the neighborhood. Aside from the housekeeper (played by major real-life calypso figure and activist Leftie of the day, Sir Lancelot), her two friends are a borderline batty former actress (Julia Dean) who’s about eight times her age — and an imagined friend (or is she?) with the looks and physical form of a photo subject Carter’s Amy character found in the house. In other words, she looks just like Simone Simon, an actress who had by far her most famous role in the original Cat People, despite a filmography that also included Renoir’s La Bete Humaine and two for Max Ophuls: La Ronde and Le Plaisir. They’re quite a visual pair: Simone with dark hair and with looks that used to be called “silky” against Carter, who was so blond that she previously played Veronica Lake’s lookalike daughter in Rene Clair’s comic fantasy I Married a Witch.

As the child’s parents, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph return from the Cat People original, where they had to deal with the stress of Simone being possessed by cats (interpreted by plural critics as a possible sexual hang-up) before and during Smith’s first marriage to the latter before her death. Smith is likely to come off as stiff and unfeeling to some (he’s also a tad dull here, which wasn’t always so with the actor), but let’s look at it from his character’s point of view when he blows a couple fuses. Your daughter is already showing signs of being out there in squirrelly-land, and now she’s hanging out with an apparition of your deceased ex-wife when, just to pile on, the two cannot possibly have ever met. These are domestic problems that never afflicted Ozzie Nelson, who mostly had to fret about guitar picks clogging up the Hoover.

There’s also an arresting subplot involving the old woman and her sadly ignored daughter (Elizabeth Russell) who is certainly pathetic-with-a-cause. Russell’s creepy eyes and high cheekbones were made for supernatural movies, and she made several more with Lewton during the latter’s comet-like career that established him as the all-time master of low-budget psychological horror; I can really imagine her as a regular at one of Dracula’s Hefner-like bashes at his mansion. Beyond Carter’s marvelous workhorse performance (I think she worked all but one day of the shooting schedule), Curse gets to me most as a movie of mood, with Nicholas Musuraca photography and Roy Webb music again helping to define ’40s RKO. And so soon after seeing spectacularly sparkling black-and-white recent Blu-rays of Gun Crazy and Criss Cross, here’s another release whose images just jump off a large home screen. If I’m not mistaken, I think this is the first time that either Shout! or Scream Factory has taken a flier on a super-vintage title that Warner controls. Here’s to collaboration.

There’s a heavy dose of real-life melancholy hanging over this picture, which I suppose perversely adds to the mood. Lewton’s commercial touch began fading around this time, and within three years, his career would be all but over. Carter developed polio, which curtailed her career, though she apparently had a happy life as wife, mother and teacher. Simon, who felt indebted to Lewton, turned down the lead in a more prestigious picture (Douglas Sirk’s Summer Storm, I think) for basically a small-ish role here and was soon gone from Hollywood. Even the fact that onetime editor Robert Wise got his big break by being asked to make his directorial debut here came at a price; the initially hired Gunther V. Fritsch was doing a good but snail’s-pace job and had to be replaced, which is why Curse has shared director credits. (Pretty seamless, too, gotta say.) So with two commentaries (including a new one), a half-hour Simone portrait and the Carter radio interview … well, let’s just say that every cult movie deserves this kind of TLC, though I Walked With a Zombie and The Seventh Victim top my own wish-list of Lewton’s I’d love to see on Blu-ray.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Curse of the Cat People’ and ‘2 Weeks in Another Town’

Animated Film ‘The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island’ Due on Disc From Shout! Factory Aug. 7

The animated feature film The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island will come out on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 7 from Legacy Classics and Shout! Factory’s Shout! Kids.

A movie adaption of the popular children’s book of the same name, The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island follows the adventures of the orphaned Boxcar Children as they spend a summer living on their grandfather’s small, nearly uninhabited island. There they meet the mysterious Joe, who is inexplicably living on their island. The film features the voices of Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”) as James Alden, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) as Dr. Moore, Dane DeHaan (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Joe, Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence) as Jesse Alden, Carter Sand (Frozen) as Benny Alden, Gil Birmingham (Twilight) as Lonan Browning, Griffin Gluck (Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life) as Henry Alden, Stephen Stanton (Star Wars Rebels) as Capt. Daniel and Talitha Bateman (Love, Simon) as Violet.

The title is available for pre-order at Amazon.com or shoutfactory.com and is Dove approved for all ages.

The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island is the first of three new animated features to be adapted from the “The Boxcar Children” book series as part of a partnership between Shout! Kids and Legacy Classics.

“The Boxcar Children” series from author Gertrude Chandler Warner is one of the best-selling children’s book series of all time, which having just marked its 75th anniversary, has sold more than 70 million books worldwide.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, Legacy Classics has animation and visual effects studios in Seoul, Jakarta and Bali. Founded by Dan Chuba and Mark Dippé, the company is dedicated to creating family entertainment and educational tools based on classic and award-winning children’s literature.

Docs ‘National Parks Adventure’ and ‘Dream Big: Engineering Our World’ Due on 4K UHD July 24 From Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory will release two documentaries, National Parks Adventure and Dream Big: Engineering Our World, in a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray set (including 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and digital copy) July 24.

Both were originally filmed for and seen in IMAX and Giant Screen theaters.

Narrated by Robert Redford, National Parks Adventure comes from filmmaker Greg MacGillivray and offers a sweeping overview of the national parks’ history.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World, narrated by Jeff Bridges, celebrates the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels big and small. The first Giant Screen film for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative, Dream Big aims to inspire kids of diverse backgrounds to become innovators and will be accompanied by ongoing educational, museum and community efforts to expose young people from all backgrounds to engineering.

An education-focused 2-DVD edition of Dream Big: Engineering Our World will also be available featuring the movie along with a 150-page educator’s guide (12 lesson plans, including handouts), 10 educational shorts, eight behind-the-scenes featurettes and eight more short “Fun Fact” videos.

Shout! Factory’s catalog of 4K films also includes Journey to Space Flight of the ButterfliesRocky Mountain ExpressHumpback WhalesWonders Of The Arctic The Last Reef: Cities Beneath The Sea and Mysteries of China.

 

Season 2 of ‘The Good Place’ Due on DVD July 17

NBC’s The Good Place: The Complete Second Season will come out on DVD July 17 from Shout! Factory.

From executive producer Michael Schur (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Parks and Recreation”), “The Good Place” stars Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) and Ted Danson (“Cheers”) in a comedy about the afterlife.

Bonus features include extended episodes, new audio commentaries with cast and crew, a gag reel, and a visual effects reel.

Shout! Factory Releasing 25th Anniversary ‘Power Rangers’ Steelbook Set

Shout! Factory and Saban Brands Aug. 7 will release Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Complete Series — 25th Anniversary Edition Steelbook. The 20-disc set encompasses the first three seasons of the “Power Rangers” franchise on 19 DVDs, as well as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie on Blu-ray for the first time.

Fans who buy from shoutfactory.com will receive an exclusive, limited-edition 18×24-inch lithograph, featuring art by Paul Shipper.

The movie Blu-ray will include the featurette “The Mighty Leap to the Silver Screen,” a look back at the movie with the cast and crew, including new interviews with director Bryan Spicer and stars Johnny Yong Bosch and Paul Freeman.

The set also includes two bonus DVDs featuring hours of additional material and retrospective featurettes.

Shout! Factory Releasing ‘Freak Show’ on Disc June 5

Shout! Factory and IFC Films will release the coming-of-age drama Freak Show on Blu-ray and DVD June 5. The directorial debut of actress and producer Trudie Styler, Freak Show stars Alex Lawther, Bette Midler, Larry Pine, Abigail Breslin, Laverne Cox and AnnaSophia Robb.

Lawther plays Billy Bloom, a gender-bending teenager who feels like a fish out of water at a conservative high school.

Shout! Factory and ITV in Classic Content Deal

Shout! Factory and ITV Studios Global Entertainment have inked a distribution deal to bring a library of classic films and series, including Sophie’s Choice, On Golden Pond and the 1967 TV series “The Prisoner,” to entertainment platforms in the United States and Canada.

This multi-year deal provides Shout! with broadcast, video on-demand, streaming, digital and home entertainment rights to more than 135 titles. Among the properties in the deal are The Big Sleep (Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Sarah Miles), Raise the Titanic (Jason Robards), The Boys From Brazil  (Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier), The Last Unicorn  (Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow), The Eagle Has Landed (Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall), Capricorn One (Elliott Gould, James Brolin), The Cassandra Crossing (Sophia Lauren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen), “Hammer House of Horror,” and Gerry Anderson TV shows (“Fireball XL-5,” “Stingray,” “Thunderbirds,” “Captain Scarlet” and “Supercar”).

“We’re incredibly excited to bring these memorable films and TV shows out through Shout’s distribution channels,” said Shout! Factory’s founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos in a joint statement. “There’s a lot of opportunity to distribute this content through digital and cable channels, transactional outlets, and on disc. We love getting into all the nooks and crannies.”

“Our extensive portfolio is rich in classic titles and we are delighted that this deal with Shout! will open up some of our most timeless shows and films to brand new audiences,” said Rob Kaplan, VP, U.S. sales, at ITV Studios Global Entertainment, in a statement.

The two companies are working closely to remaster a number of titles, some of which have never been available on digital, Blu-ray and DVD, according to the Shout! press release. Shout! is also developing bonus content for special editions.

Shout! Factory Buys Roger Corman Library with Chinese Co.

Indie distributor Shout! Factory and China’s Ace Film HK Co. have acquired Roger “The Pope of Pop Cinema” Corman’s New Horizons Picture catalog featuring 270 movies and TV series. No financial details were disclosed.

The deal grants Shout! rights to North America, Europe, Australia and Russia. Ace has rights for China, Asia, Africa and South America.

Titles include Rock‘N’Roll High School, The Trip, The Wild Angels, Death Race 2000, Piranha, Bloodfist, Black Scorpion, Little Shop of Horrors, Eat My Dust! and Humanoids From The Deep, among others.

The 91-year-old Corman received an honorary Oscar in 2009, and reportedly helped foster the careers of Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Paul Bartel, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme and Gale Anne Hurd, among others.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Shout! has distributed select Corman titles on branded packaged media box sets and digital since 2010. It plans to support the catalog with a “long-term growth strategy” that includes new content development, remakes, merchandise licensing programs, digital media initiatives, and content syndication.

The company bowed ad-supported Shout! Factory TV in 2015.

 

GKIDS and Shout! Factory Bring ‘Birdboy’ to Disc

Animation distributor GKIDS and Shout! Factory will release the award-winning Birdboy: The Forgotten Children on Blu-ray and DVD March 13.

Based on Alberto Vázquez’s graphic novel and award-winning short film, Birdboy relates the story of a group of teenage critters in a post-apocalyptic world searching for a better life.

Co-directed by Vázquez, the film won last year’s Goya Award for Best Animated Feature. Vázquez also won the Best Animated Short Film prize in the same year for Decorado.

Extras include an interview with the filmmakers, the original Birdboy short film, the Decorado short, and the theatrical trailer.

Brent Haynes Named Head of TV Development at Shout! Factory’s New Studio

Shout! Factory Jan. 11 named industry veteran Brent Haynes to spearhead television development at Shout! Studios, the indie distributor’s upstart original content unit.

Haynes, who once was SVP, series development, comedy & animation at MTV, will work with Shout founders Richard and Garson Foos, Bob Emmer and David McIntosh, SVP, content licensing and strategy.

Most recently, Haynes was executive producer at Picture Arcade, co-creating comedy “Crash Gallery” for Canadian Broadcasting Company.

“[Haynes] holds an extensive background and success in production development for scripted series and original specials with an emphasis in comedy,” Garson Foos said in a statement. “Given the success we’re having producing new ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ episodes and several projects in development, we look forward to Brent playing a major role in this growth area for the studio.”