Val Lewton’s short story ‘The Bagheeta’ appeared in Farnsworth Wright’s July 1930 issue of Weird Tales Magazine. Lewton was dabbling in concepts of terror, before he even got to RKO.
The story takes place in the Ukraine (from which MonsterGirl’s people come!) and is a coming of age story about a 16 year old boy named Kolya who helps his Uncle forge armor. Someone comes into the village with a slaughtered sheep, who claims to have seen a Bagheeta, a monstrous black leopard that can change it’s form into a beautiful woman. Only one person can kill a Bagheeta, and that is a virgin male, for he needs to be able to resist her seductive powers. If he is seduced, the woman will change back into the black leopard and kill the boy and eat him! Lewton would eventually adapt and produce his story for RKO in the form of Cat People in 1942 starring Simone Simon the suggested embodiment of a Bagheeta.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch, scripted by DeWitt Bodeen, and stars Simone Simon as the ghost of Irena, Kent Smith as Oliver Reed, Jane Randolph as Alice Reed, Eve March as Miss Callahan, Julia Dean as Mrs. Julia Farren, Elizabeth Russell as Barbara Farren, Sir Lancelot as Edward, and Ann Carter as Amy Reed.
Curse of the Cat People is filled with poignant original music by Roy Webb and with Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People 1942, The Fallen Sparrow 1943, The 7th Victim 1943, The Spiral Staircase 1945 Bedlam 1946 and Out of The Past 1947) It’s no wonder Curse of The Cat People has many of the elements of a classic film noir piece.
CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) – A synopsis
After the tragic death of his wife Irena, played by the beautiful Simone Simon, Oliver Reed once again played by Kent Smtih has remarried his co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). They now have a very serious , yet gentle six year old little girl named Amy (Ann Carter) who is taken to day-dreaming and being a loner.
She does not mix in well with the other children at school who do not understand her sensitivity or her private world of fantasy that she has built around her as a survival mechanism.
Amy’s father, Oliver, is constantly wielding an authoritative criticism of his daughters day-dreaming, and wants her to play with the other children, and exist in the ‘real’ world. Amy has a birthday party for which she invites the children in her class, but no one shows up that day, and Oliver discovers that she has mailed out the invitations by placing them in the magic wishing-tree, which is a hollowed out knot of the large tree out behind the house.
waiting for her classmates to share her birthday wishes. But no one ever comes….
Oliver had told Amy this was a magic spot when she was younger, and she remembers it,understanding it to be true because her father told her it was. She was taught to believe in magic and then without preparation, is expected to denounce all things wondrous without any serious provocation on her part. She is only six years old after all.
Saddened by the absence of her classmates at her party, Oliver, Alice and Edward the manservant from Jamaica throw Amy a smaller party instead, equip with a birthday cake decorated with 6 little candles.
Amy is told to make a wish, but not to tell anyone what it is or it won’t come true. Again, Amy is conflicted by the mixed messages the adults in her life are giving her. She tells her father, that wishes don’t come true. Oliver tells her “some do.” And her mother Alice embellishes by saying that you just can’t say it out loud or it will nullify the magic wish.
Once again, there is a suspension of disbelief on their terms, disavowing Amy and her ability to develop a clearly defined sense of fantasy and reality. How can she properly order her world.
The children at school are furious with Amy for not inviting them as promised. As they shun her, they lead her to an old sinister looking mansion, where someone calls to her from the window. A voice calls out to her to come closer. Amy looks around and the unseen person throws down a white handkerchief threading a gold ring.