Friday, October 23, 2020

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) Blu-ray Review

SCARE-A-THON Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 22
Total First Time Views: 13
Amount raised for BOXVILLE: $1,657.04

The Shadow of the Cat (1961) d. John Gilling (UK) (79 min) (1st viewing)

Wealthy Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) is brutally murdered by her manservant Andrew (Andrew Crawford) at the behest of her cold-blooded husband Walter (Andre Morell) and the two, along with long-suffering housekeeper Clara, conspire to bury the corpse in the forest; at the same time, they produce a brand-new will and testament that conveniently leaves Ella’s fortune to Walter. So far so good, as far as murders go. However, the one spanner in the works is that Ella’s beloved feline, Tabitha, has witnessed everything and is seemingly intent on driving the trio insane and/or into their own shallow graves. The battle lines are now drawn, with innocent (and disinherited) daughter Beth (Barbara Shelley) caught in the middle of a full-on war of wills where humans tumble down stairs, drown in quicksand, suffer heart attacks, or fall from parapets while cats purr with demonic delight.

Despite able performances from all involved, the stumbling block for this not-quite-Hammer production (despite the fact that many of its main players both before and behind the camera are indelibly associated with the legendary studio) is that the script by George Baxt (Burn Witch Burn, Horror Hotel) is predicated on the fact that the murderers are entirely too invested in rubbing out a witness that is, in fact, A CAT. I mean, like, an actual four-legged, milk-lapping, bewhiskered domus cattus THAT CAN’T TALK OR, YOU KNOW, BE PUT ON A WITNESS STAND. Yet, somehow, this is all that Walter, Clara, and Andrew can think about, so much so that they call in other relatives to help capture and kill it.

This is the premise we the audience are expected to buy into and, well, it just doesn’t fly. Morrell, veteran of such memorable outings as Plague of the Zombies and Hound of the Baskervilles, is suitably stern and stentorian but then flies into hysteria whenever the little furry narc wanders into view. Jackson (Brides of Dracula) fares even worse, given to knee-weakening bouts of tears at the very mention of Tabitha while Crawford is forced to behave like an utter buffoon as he fails time and again to track and trap the beast.

Of course, the main reason for fans to tune in and hang on is to watch the sublime Shelley (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Quatermass and the Pit) somehow maneuver through the proceedings with her dignity intact. With her expressive eyes and deep resonant voice, Shelley’s benevolent Beth is the only character not behaving like an absolute weirdee throughout. In fact, she is the one who asks, “What is wrong with all of you?” on numerous occasions, which certainly aligns her with the viewer’s sentiments.

Despite Gilling’s (The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies) best efforts to maintain tension and the flawless black-and-white lensing by Arthur Grant (Curse of the Werewolf), the central conceit is just too silly. This might have worked better as a comedy instead of asking everyone to stiff upper lip it; to their credit, they all manage to keep a straight face. You might not have the same luck.


NEW 2K Scan from a fine grain Film Element
NEW Audio commentary by author/film historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck
NEW “In The Shadow of Shelley” with Barbara Shelley (25 min)
TV Spot for The Curse of the Werewolf/The Shadow of the Cat
Still Gallery

Also, just a quick note, whoever did the subtitles for this release needs to have their ears examined post-haste. I was literally yelling at the screen half the time, seeing things like "...a room full of adults" being subtitled as "...a room full of old owls." I mean, come ON.

The Shadow of the Cat is available now on Blu-ray (along with The Black Castle, Cult of the Cobra, and The Thing That Couldn’t Die) as part of their Universal Horror Collection Volume 6 and can be ordered HERE:


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