Director: Alfred Shaughnessy
Screenplay: Lou Rusoff
Starring: Barbara Shelley, Robert Ayres, Kay Callard, Ernest Milton, Lilly Kann
Running Time: 73 mins
BBFC Classification: 12
Starting out in ‘Old Dark House’ mode, Cat Girl is a remake, of sorts, of the Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton classic, Cat People (1942). A beautiful young woman, Leonora, (played with sultry charm by scream queen Barbara Shelley) travels back to her roots to see her unpleasant uncle at his ancient country estate, where she unhappily grew up. He wants her home so he can pass on the family curse to her before he passes away, although he doesn’t tell her that until she’s in his spiteful clutches! What he didn’t expect was the company she brought with her. She is now married and has brought along her obnoxious, money-grabbing husband, and a couple of their equally annoying friends, Alan and Kathy.
The old man dies after trying to convince Leonora that after his death she will share her soul with a leopard, a big cat that she will then be able to manipulate as she likes, but only by night. At first she tries not to believe him, but on stumbling across her errant hubby canoodling Kathy inappropriately she takes revenge by setting the leopard on her cheating husband who perishes, his throat ripped out.
Fortunately, the love of her life, Brian, (now a doctor) is summoned, after she swoons on realising what she has done, and offers her temporary ‘shelter’ at the local nuthouse he assists at. It quickly becomes apparent to Brian that Leonora might be better off with just a change of scenery so he foolishly offers to take her under his wing at his own house in the big city, which he shares with Dorothy, his wife. Unfortunately for poor Dorothy, Leonora is very jealous and plans to dispatch her rival in love as soon as possible…
Cat Girl has dated quite badly in some respects, but is still thoroughly watchable. Personally I preferred the first half set in and around the rather creepy mansion owed by her equally weird and creepy uncle whose hobbies include wandering around abusing his poor house-keeper, Anna, reading ancient grimoires and setting his leopard loose at night to hunt wild game for him to then devour, raw! Once the film moves on to the sanatorium and then onto London I thought it became less interesting.
The picture quality is pretty good and the sound is clear on the whole. Apparently this is a brand-new transfer from the original film elements and it’s screened here in 1.33.1, its original theatrical screen ratio. Shaughnessy makes good use of the creepy studio sets for the first half of the film and the acting is decent, if a little overly dramatic at times.
Cat Girl is basically a reasonable take on the lycanthropy legend and Barbara Shelley smoulders whenever she’s on screen, which is most of the time; it’s therefore understandable that she grew into quite a star shortly afterwards. However, I did find her performance a bit melodramatic at times, but I think that’s more a reflection on how they ‘acted’ back then, rather than on her per se.
Sadly, to my mind, the film is let down by a lack of truly sympathetic characters, and therefore I found it hard to really root for any of them. Initially Leonora is fairly sympathetic, but then she turns into a green-eyed bitch, and Brian’s poor wife is quite sympathetic, but isn’t really in it enough for us to build up much empathy for her.
However, the film is definitely worth a watch if you like your horrors of a more classic variety with fog-bound sets, posh coppers, and the gore suitably kept to a minimum.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Cat Girl has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles, a number of which are certainly worth a look.
The extras on the disc are an ‘A’ certificate trailer and a gallery featuring lots of lobby cards, posters and stills from the film.