The Catman of Paris – USA, 1946

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The Catman of Paris is a 1946 American horror mystery film directed by Lesley Selander (Fury, The Vampire’s Ghost) from a screenplay by Sherman L. Lowe. It stars Carl Esmond, Lenore Aubert (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein), Douglass Dumbrille and Gerald Mohr (The Angry Red Planet).

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1895: The upper echelons of Parisian society are gathered to welcome returning hero, Charles Regnier (Esmond) to their midst, after the runaway success of his latest book. Sadly for Regnier, this turns out to not quite be the case, ‘The Men in Suits’ being more than a little concerned that his writing appears to be informed by top-secret government documents.

To make matters worse, the very same evening, an official who is connected to the documents is brutally murdered, suspicion immediately being focussed on the author.

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The finest police minds of the French capital are scrambled (Inspector Severen, Mohr and the Prefect of Police, Fritz Feld, The Golem), the results being a beautifully-crafted diorama of the local streets and the somewhat wild shot in the dark that the savagely-scratched victim pointed to the culprit being a metamorphosed human, there being a history of “man turning into wolves and vultures”. Yes, vultures.

Regnier, we learn, has suffered from bouts of amnesia since he returned from a jaunt in the Tropics, and he is concerned when it is pointed out by Severen when interviewed the following morning, that he is still wearing his clothes from the previous evening. He is not arrested but the police have him nailed as their prime suspect.

Alas, the next victim is his fiancée, Marguerite (the stunning Adele Mara, Curse of the Faceless Man), the killer has his identity hidden from us, though is heralded by a bizarre transformation scene showing large waves and a bobbing buoy followed by a yowling feline.

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Regnier is now convinced of his guilt but is offered words of comfort by his friend, Henry Borchard (Dumbrille) and the daughter of his publisher, Marie (Aubert), who warns him that he must flee to safety before the police inevitably come for him.

After a thrilling horse-drawn carriage chase, Regnier bemoans his fate, whilst the audience is treated to a fanciful explanation for the monster, the celestial heavens conspiring to periodically curse a man with murderous feline tendencies, the last time in 1845, this time, the ninth, doomed to be the last of the ‘cat’s’ lives.

By the time the police do arrive, Marie’s life is in real danger and as the mist descends in the mansion’s grounds, the mysterious creature threatens to claim yet another victim.

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It’s interesting to see how horror films managed to be made whilst the Second World War raged, and in its immediate aftermath, The Catman of Paris offers no moral posturing or knowing nods, only an hours worth of rather aged thrills.

An unusual influence is the undervalued Werewolf of London, Henry Hull’s doomed travails in Tibet essentially echoing the protagonist of this film, though why ‘the tropics’ should be evocative of waves and sea furniture is a little bemusing.

Other more superficial influences include Val Lewton’s Cat People, the dark streets and top hat and cape of Jack the Ripper and even the lost Lon Chaney film, London After Midnight, the latter allegedly offering almost as brief a glimpse at the monster as this film.

The make-up by Bob Mark (Valley of the Zombies) is excellent, though, being a whodunnit, it is sadly necessary to keep the identity of the Catman a mystery until, literally, the last five minutes.

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At only 65 minutes, there is still an impressive amount of action crammed in here, of particular note the carriage chase, which threatens to break out into 19th Century French Connection insanity.

There is a fundamental problem, that of the almost perverse insistence at convincing us, the audience, that cats are in any way frightening – rats or bats maybe but the friendly moggy that keeps popping up to remind us what we’re watching does nothing to support this ludicrous notion.

The hypothesising is terrifically silly, culminating in an Allo, Allo-accented cry of, “Wizer faytures of ay kit!”. The largely internationally-flavoured cast of B-movie nearlies have their hearts in the right place, even if they’ve mislaid their scripts.

A product of Republic Pictures, known for their Poverty Row, ‘schlock and flaw’ conveyor belt of trash, the surprise ending, at least, is certainly worth sticking around for.

Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia

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Other reviews:

“Though it’s delivered by a capable cast and crew, the film doesn’t do much to rise above its familiarity. The genre was at its most threadbare during this era–perhaps the horrors of World War 2 were all too real, and Hollywood’s horror output reflected that, leaving it to cannibalize upon itself in greater numbers than usual.” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!

“Certainly, what ambiguity there is here rests only in the script, not in Lesley Selander’s direction which is workmanlike and generates little in the way of atmosphere, unlike Jacques Tourneur’s work on Cat People which evoked an eerie world of shadows. There is a reasonably exciting horse carriage chase sequence, and the sets are a touch above B-level, but the film is routine.” Richard Scheib, Moria

” … even a mouse should be able to watch without too much great alarm. For the ‘cat’ in this case is permitted such infrequent appearance on the screen and is such a decrepit looking monster that it is more to be pitied than feared.” The New York Times, 1946

Cast and characters:

  • Carl Esmond as Charles Regnier
  • Lenore Aubert as Marie Audet
  • Adele Mara as Marguerite Duval
  • Douglass Dumbrille as Henry Borchard
  • Gerald Mohr as Inspector Severen
  • Fritz Feld as Prefect of Police
  • Francis Pierlot as Paul Audet
  • Georges Renavent as Guillard
  • Francis McDonald as Devereaux
  • Maurice Cass as Paul de Roche
  • Alphonse Martell as Maurice Cocaignac
  • Paul Marion as Jules
  • John Dehner as Georges
  • Anthony Caruso as Raoul
  • Carl Neubert as Phillippe
  • Elaine Lange as Blanche de Clermont
  • Tanis Chandler as Yvette
  • George Davis as Concierge

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