The Shadowplayhouse has been haunted of late. Strange noises in the night, phantom shapes glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, small morsels of food vanishing overnight.
A rodentalgeist has crept within these walls, nimbly eluding our traps, squeaking in hilarity at our feeble attempts to exorcise it, and ignoring the patient attention of Tasha, our Siamese sentinel. Until this morning, when Fiona was awakened by a SNAP, and then exultant mewlings and scamperings from Tasha. Fiona just assumed T was having a “mad half-hour”, until she arose and found a mouse, slain by a trap, hanging from Tasha’s cheerful jaws.
Now, I take this as an imposture — Tasha was trying to claim credit for killing the mouse, despite the evidence of the appended trap still clinging to the beastie’s throat. A cat lie. Fiona disagrees.
Nevertheless, having recently screened Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE to students, who found much cruel humour in the frequent shots of a kitten being stuffed into a shoebox (gift-wrapping pets has since gone out of fashion), I decided to entertain Tasha by telling her the story of that film. Of course, I had to adapt it somewhat for her attention span and cultural prejudices.
“Once upon a time there was a kitten in a box.”
“A man gave the kitten to a girl, but it didn’t like her.”
“So he took it back to the pet shop, where it went into a cage with some other kittens. The man left with a canary, which died. But the kitten was no doubt purchased by some lovely people and lived happily ever after. The end.”
I guess the kitten being jammed into the little box is the central concept of the film in metaphorical form — the animal within. But the best parts of the movie are far from this kind of symbolic, artificial stuff, and more to do with the way light falls in empty, impersonal spaces, the echo of little sounds, and the quiet delivery of muted actors.
Another thought — I was tickled by the character of Simone Simon’s neighbour, Connie Leon, a gratuitous Scot of the kind one never expects to encounter in a Hollywood film but sometimes does (see RUSHMORE for a more recent example). No obvious reason presents itself for her broad Scottish accent, as she advises everyone not to disturb the crime scene, linking her to the zookeeper, another Scot, Alec Craig, although he has suppressed his accent for the role. Both characters pop up to offer helpful words of solid commonsense advice. I’m always pleased by inappropriate Celtic intrusions of this kind.