‘Further evidence of planetary influence on transmutation, especially that alteration of form and substance in which men reportedly assume the features and characteristics of certain animals is established in the astronomical phenomenon of Jupiter in juxtaposition to the constellation Omnus Magnus…’
A writer returns to Paris after publishing a popular, but controversial, novel which has made him persona non grata with the government. Plagued by headaches and blackouts, his arrival coincides with the first of a particularly savage series of murders, which the press attribute to a creature who is half-man, half-cat.
RKO producer Val Lewton’s runaway success with a series of low-budget horrors in the early 1940’s inspired several other studios to follow suit and this effort from Republic was obviously inspired by his hit ‘Cat People’ (1942). Writer Sherman L. Lowe also seems to have been watching Universal’s ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941) and has mixed that kind of mythology with elements of a more standard whodunit murder mystery.
Carl Esmond was a second lead/featured supporting in a few major studio productions such as Fritz Lang’s ‘Ministry of Fear’ (1944), ‘Experiment Perilous’ (1944) and ‘Smash Up: The Story of a Woman’ (1947). His stock in trade was suave aristocrats and medical men of various European origins, and he even played writer Jules Verne in ‘From The Earth To The Moon’ (1958). He’s a capable lead here, if you can accept the notion that a radical writer looks good in a dinner suit (and even owns one for that matter).
Main support comes from the French sounding Leonore Aubert (actually born in Austro-Hungary) whose lively personality provides a much-needed contrast to our increasingly glum hero, who becomes convinced he is guilty of the murders. Also along for the ride is comic actor Fritz Feld, whose trademark was to ‘pop’ his mouth with his open hand (but not here!) and Inspector Gerald Mohr, who makes absolutely no effort to sound like anything but a native New Yorker.
Lowe’s script is crisp and sprightly and even attempts to shoehorn in some historical mythology for his ‘Catman’ although it’s not allowed to get in the way of the more standard developments of the story. Unfortunately, some of these strain credibility almost as much as our strange, feline killer. But there is an inventive bar-fight sequence, and director Lesley Selander manages a nifty in-joke with a real-life cat, as well as conjuring a decent level of mild suspense. The twist in the tale is telegraphed a minute or two early, but the resolution is unlikely to surprise anyone in the audience who’s been paying close attention.
A well-paced, efficient little horror thriller with a willing cast doing their best to sell its more unlikely aspects. Enjoyable for fans of unusual, low-budget films of the period.