Leonora Johnson (Barbara Shelley) has been summoned home by her uncle Edmund Brandt (Ernest Milton). He told her to come alone but she brings her husband Richard (Jack May) and her friends Cathy (Paddy Webster) and Allan (John Lee). Leonora hates her old home and is a little afraid of her uncle so the more people, the more moral support she thinks she has. The only reason she is going home is to discuss her inheritance with her uncle.
At a pub on the way to the estate Leonora runs into her old flame Dr. Brian Marlowe (Robert Ayres). Brian is a psychiatrist and is now married to Dorothy (Kay Callard). Leonora is still in love with Brian. I don’t know why she ever married Richard since she doesn’t love him. Richard probably married Leonora because he thinks she is getting a lot of money. He is still having an affair with Cathy and Allan is always drunk so why he’s around is another mystery. Suffice it to say everyone is a jerk and it’s OK with me if they all die.
When they finally get to the family estate Edmund is pissed but there’s nothing he can do. He takes Leonora into a room alone and tells her that her inheritance involves a curse that has haunted the family for the last 700 years. According to the curse the oldest member of the family can simultaneously inhabit their own body and the body of a leopard. Since Leonora is the last member of her family, when her uncle dies she gets to be the leopard. Leonora runs out of the house and into the woods. Her uncle, who just happens to have a leopard on hand, releases the leopard’s soul and lets the giant cat kill him thereby transferring the curse on to Leonora.
Leonora swallows the tale hook, line and sinker. She now thinks that she cohabitates with the leopard. When Richard goes out into the woods to have sex with Cathy, Leonora sics the leopard on them killing Richard. Cathy manages to run away. Brian is called in and he poo poos all the curse nonsense and being a typical egomaniac believes he can fix Leonora. What he does is put his wife in harm’s way by insisting she help him fix the woman who thinks she is a leopard and wants him for herself.
“The Cat Girl” was released in 1957 and was directed by Alfred Shaughnessy. It is a British/American horror film. It is a low budget unofficial remake of Val Lewton’s “Cat People” 1942 made by AIP. A bit strange since “Cat People” is low budget itself.
The film itself is actually pretty decent. There’s loads of atmosphere and the story is told well. Whether or not Leonora is actually possessed and possessing the leopard is a little ambiguous. Is the curse real or is it all in her head? The answer is left up to the viewer to decide what they believe. A similar plot devise as was used in “Cat People”. The combination psychological thriller and horror film were blended together nicely.
I did basically hate all the characters but I’m sure that was the point. Throw a bunch of crappy people together and see which ones die. Dr. Marlowe was so preoccupied with Leonora’s character flaws that he missed everyone else’s, especially his own. I doubt very much if the medical board would condone having a patient that was in love with you. He should have recommended another doctor for her, but noooo. His ego insisted that only he could fix her.
As for the comparison between this movie and “Cat People”, I wouldn’t spend too much time on that. Yes there are similarities, and there are differences. I believe the intention was not to duplicate “Cat People” or re-make it. I look at it as more of an homage to Val Lewton and his work.