Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Catman of Paris (1946)

Paris during the Belle Epoque. Charles Regnier (Carl Esmond) has written a rather sensational book surrounding a secret process whose true proceedings leave a lot of people in power quite embarrassed. Said people in power would really rather see Regnier incarcerated and his book destroyed, for the only way they can see him knowing the things about the not-Dreyfuss-Affair he put in his book is buying state secrets from someone.

Regnier doesn’t become more popular when the man supposed to correlate all the information about the old affair in preparation for another secret process – one against Regnier – is first strangled to death then kitty-scratched by someone dressed up to the nines in an opera cape, an excellent hat etc, and who meows quite loudly while doing the deed. Inspector Severen (Gerald Mohr) is convinced Regnier is the perpetrator, an assumption that gains weight by the mysterious headaches the audience knows Regnier to suffer from in connection with a cute series of hallucinations including a negative lightning, a buoy in bad weather (!?) and a cute black kitty. Regnier also just can’t remember anything about the night of the murder, so the very excitable police prefect isn’t the only one shouting “Were-Cat (person)!” quite loudly, for we all know the signs, right?

The next murder – of Regnier’s superficial and rich fiancée – happens under comparable circumstances and adds to the evidence against Regnier, but can a guy this suave really be a murderous kitten?

Republic Studios, the party responsible for Catman of Paris is mostly known for its serials and its B-Westerns, many of the latter directed by the (usually) great Lesley Selander who also directed this one. One can’t help but assume that Selander didn’t really feel at home in the horror genre, even though Republic’s earlier, and much superior The Vampire’s Ghost was also his work, and had more than a few moody scenes. That film also had a much better, and certainly much more interesting, script which might have been nearly as talky as this one is, but thanks to the always excellent Leigh Brackett, did actually have things to say about character and theme where Catman seems to spend hours on clunky exposition delivered as woodenly as possible.

While one can’t really expect a late 40s budget horror film of this kind to be all that exciting (excitement costs money, after all), or coherent (coherence needs the people involved to actually care, after all, and not just need to churn out their 30th film of the year to fill a cinema slot), some of it (I’m looking at you, the half of Monogram’s horror films that isn’t just boring) make up for their lack in more typical and sensible virtues through sheer bat-shit insanity. And while it stays boring more often than I would have liked it to, Catman of Paris does have quite a bit of that good stuff in it, too. It’s not just the fact that a lot of French people in Belle Epoque Paris speak either with the most sonorously American accent possible or a German/Austrian one, or random moments of script genius like the quickness the Prefect of the Parisian Police jumps at the idea of a Were-Cat-Man at the earliest possibility (scratches like from a cat! OMG! Were cat!) and never leaves the idea, the way a quaint (well, as quaint as it gets on this budget) Parisian café quickly turns into a punch-out saloon right out of one of Selander’s Westerns. And did I mention the coach chase?

Anyhow, these things are really just the beginning, for when the film really gets going, it introduces a professorial gentleman who posits a series of historical cat man appearances caused by astrological gubbins at crisis times in history, with this one, being the ninth, and a cat having nine lives, clearly being the last. SCIENCE! There’s also the way the film’s finale might explain the identity of the catman, but never bothers to even think about the logistics or motives of his deeds, or why Regnier has the buoy-centric visions, headaches, and amnesia, or, you know, why the catman is a catman? This sort of thing does go quite a way with me to make up for all that exposition during the rest of the film, the particular dullness of the romance, and the stiffness of the acting, but then, it would, wouldn’t it?

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