After the success of Cat People, RKO demanded that Val Lewton get started on a sequel. The original director was Gunther von Fritsch, but when he fell behind schedule, Robert Wise took over.
It was the first film for both men. Fritsch would eventually make Body and Soul and Stolen Identity while Wise would win Best Director and Best Picture for both West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Of interest to genre fans would be his films The Body Snatcher, A Game of Death, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Andromeda Strain and, of course, The Haunting.
Sharing sets with The Magnificent Ambersons — just as the original Cat People did — this film may be a sequel and have the same cast and characters, but it is a much different movie. Lewton wanted to call it Amy and Her Friend, but the studio wanted to make money.
Lewton invested so much of his time and himself into this movie, basing it on his childhood and own mindset. RKO, on the other hand, was upset that it wasn’t the same movie that Lewton had already made.
Sometime in the past, Irena (Simone Simon) died — see Cat People — and Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Cat Creature) moved on to marry Alice Moore (Jane Randolph, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Now, he has a six-year-old daughter named Amy (Ann Carter, The Boy with Green Hair) who lives in a dream world. At the center of it is Irena — now a ghost who she only knows from a photograph.
Amy also becomes friends with an aging actress named Julia Farren (Julia Dean, Nightmare Alley) whose daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell, who was also implied to be a cat person in the original film) hates her. Barbara also begins to hate the attention that Amy receives from her mother.
The end of this film — with Barabara about to kill the young girl and Irena’s spirit returning to save her — is sheer artistry on celluloid. It astounded me and I still can’t shake the feeling I had as I watched this film.
The theme of this film — everyone believes that Amy is insane because she cannot leave the world of fantasy — was pretty much how Lewton lived as a child. In fact, his wife believed that he never truly came back to the real world as an adult. He also based the tension between Amy and her father on the relationship that he had with his daughter Nina.
You could see this as a holiday movie. You could also see it as a story of what child abuse does. Several therapists used this movie as a teaching tool for years, even asking Lewton why he had such a silly name for such a serious movie.
Shout! Factory has a blu ray of this that I urge you to purchase. This is pure cinema and has my highest recommendation.