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As if the title wasn't a dead giveaway, The Cat Girl is a fifties version of the 1942 Jacques Tourneur classic Cat People; although ironically it shares more in common with the 1982 remake as to how the idea of a woman turning into a cat blends with the plot line. The film was made in 1957 so by today's standards is still pretty tame, but much less is left to the imagine than was the case with the earlier 1942 film, and this one certainly is a brash take on the subject. However, in doing away with the subtlety of Tourneur's film, The Cat Girl also loses a lot in the way of intrigue. The plot focuses on a young woman named Leonora Brandt. Leonora is the unlucky recipient of a family curse, which means that she turns into a bloodthirsty leopard at night or at least so she is told. leonora begins to believe that the curse is real and sees herself changing during times of high stress; but it's never really clear whether what is happening is real or just inside her head.
As was the case with the Cat People, the film relies a lot on atmosphere and director Alfred Shaughnessy ensures that the film always feels very sinister feel about it and a few key scenes in particular are real highlights in that respect; although nothing in the film reaches the highs of the swimming pool scene in Jacques Tourneur's film. Barbara Shelley (who would go on to make a number of Hammer Horror films) takes the lead role and does rather well with it; she successfully manages to convey her character's emotions throughout the film. Her performance is not matched by the plot, however, as it moves rather sluggishly and the curse itself is never really explored. Of course, we didn't find out a great deal about the curse in Cat People; but that film kept all of its cards close to its chest so it didn't feel improper; which is not the case here. The film boils down to an interesting and well done ending and while it's slightly unfair to compare it to Cat People; that is the obvious film to compare it to...although The Cat Girl is a decent little film in its own right.
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