The Shadow of the Cat (part of Indicator’s recent Hammer Vol.6 set) is certainly low-rank Hammer- indeed there seems to have been much debate over the years regards whether it really qualifies as a Hammer film at all, as the film is billed as a BHP Production in the credits, and the project originated in a script from a seperate production company before Hammer came in. Regards the former point and its credits, that seems to have been due to a deal with Columbia Pictures at the time, a deal which, as The Shadow of the Cat was a second film with Universal that year (the other being The Curse of the Werewolf), was likely infringed and which Hammer chose to disguise posing it as a BHP Picture. In any case, its true enough that The Shadow of the Cat doesn’t entirely feel a genuine Hammer horror picture, certainly of the time- when Hammer’s films were lurid gothic horrors this one was a tamer affair, filmed in black and white and less, well, rock and roll.
With a certain nod to Poe thrown in, even in 1961 The Shadow of the Cat would have seemed an old-fashioned gothic yarn with a silly premise (a cat witnesses the murder of her mistress and sets out on feline revenge). Barbara Shelley herself seemed to dismiss the film as something of a failure, citing revisions to the original script when Hammer took over the production ruining what made it special. Originally it was a more of an intellectual, atmospheric tale, with the vengeful cat largely unseen (hence the ‘Shadow’ of the title) and possibly more the guilty consciences of the murderers driving them mad and to ill ends than literally a pissed-off tabby doing them in.
Certainly its another one of those films in which you feel Shelley is largely wasted and rather slumming in a sub-par horror. I don’t know what it was about Shelley; a strikingly beautiful and elegant actress at the time, most of the Hammer films she was in seemed beneath her, and the scripts largely wasted her talent, but then again, I guess this was symptomatic of the sexual politics in films at the time, not just those of Hammer. Actresses had it rough back then. There was a tendency for the women to defer to the male characters, be subservient to them and just be sexy window-dressing. Mind, Shelley was hardly the kind of lady to go all Ripley on the cads who murdered her aunt.
Running at a brisk 79 minutes, this hardly outstays its welcome- there is after all a certain charm in its gothic old-house sensibilities, what with the moody shadows and décor and adults shrieking at the sight of a cat. Its a nice, old-fashioned black & white horror film that surely never scared anybody, but is plenty of fun with its superior cast (all this is really missing is Peter Cushing chewing up the scenery). That’s the weird thing about film- there’s al kinds; daft, serious, gritty, noir, slapstick, romantic, tragic, happy… it takes all kinds of film to make the world turn.