The Catman of Paris

by Charlie Largent Jun 20, 2023

The Catman of Paris
Blu-ray – Region Free
Viavision (Imprint)
1946 / 1.37:1
Starring Carl Esmond, Douglass Dumbrille, Lenore Aubert
Written by Sherman Lowe
Directed by Lesley Selander

Charles Regnier should have the world on a string—he’s a bestselling author with Paris as his playground and the town’s most desirable women at his feet. But those feet are made of clay; the police suspect Regnier’s latest book is based on stolen documents—and those who know the truth are being silenced by a killer with nine lives and sharp claws. Plagued by increasingly frequent blackouts, Regnier begins to question whether he himself might be the supernatural fiend they call… The Catman of Paris (cue thunder and lightning).

That thunder and lightning—accompanied by visions of a gigantic cat—occurs whenever Regnier suffers one of his bouts of amnesia. Even the women vying for his attention—Marguerite Duval, a fickle debutante played by Adele Mara, and her rival, Marie Audet, played by Lenore Aubert—begin to suspect the worst. It’s up to Henry Borchard, Regnier’s old friend and confidant, to unravel the mystery and reveal the monster’s identity.

At just 65 minutes Lesley Selander’s film still manages to feel much longer, moseying from one scene to the next while occasionally pausing for a brief appearance by The Catman (a heavily bearded toff with fangs and top hat). There are moments that suggest the otherworldly atmosphere of Tourneur’s Cat People—an enormous black cat prowling through a miniaturized street scene—but Selander rarely strays from the saloons and outbacks where Regnier and his adversaries behave more like bored cowpunchers than Parisian playboys.

If Selander seems to favor barroom brawls over supernatural scares, it’s because The Catman of Paris was filmed for Republic Studios where Selander directed over 100 westerns—27 of which starred William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy (Selander‘s last film was also a western, 1968’s Arizona Bushwackers starring Howard Keel).

The Austrian actor Carl Esmond plays Regnier and Douglass Dumbrille plays his buddy Borchard. Dumbrille had a long, and relatively sedate career as a character actor but it was a different story for Esmond—he escaped Nazi Germany and landed in Hollywood where he was cast as a German aviator in Edmund Goulding’s The Dawn Patrol. The actor was never wanting for work (his final film was 1985’s My Wicked, Wicked Ways, a TV movie based on the life of his Dawn Patrol co-star, Errol Flynn) and he certainly never lacked for action—except in The Catman of Paris.

Produced in 20 days in the fall of 1945 (alongside its eventual co-feature, Valley of the Zombies) the film exposes the pitfalls of a 20-day shoot—though clearly Selander was skilled at getting a complex scene in one take, directing a moonlit murder is not the same as filming a runaway stagecoach—you can’t hurry suspense.

The Catman of Paris garnered a lot of interest for certain young horror fans thanks to a photo spread in the May 1965 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. The photographs revealed not only the film’s make-up artist—Bob Marks—but the man beneath the cat make-up, Robert Wilke.

Wilke was a busy extra in Republic westerns who eventually became one of the most recognizable character actors in Hollywood with roles in From Here to Eternity, Days of Heaven, and as Nemo’s first mate in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Wilke, Selander, and Marks weren’t the only notable graduates of the Republic school of filmmaking—Catman‘s editor Harry Keller switched to the director’s chair in 1949 with The Blonde Bandit (starring Gerald Mohr, one of the detectives tailing The Catman), and went on to helm 1961’s Tammy Tell Me True, 1964’s The Brass Bottle, and producing, among others, Ann-Margret’s Kitten With a Whip, and 1965’s Mirage with Gregory Peck.

Though it turns out to be more kitty litter than cat’s meow, the relative rarity of The Catman from Paris has vexed film completists since they first caught wind of the elusive title. And Viavision (Imprint) has done its best with this sow’s ear, giving the movie’s admittedly problematic print (scratches and other frame damage) a very serviceable transfer. They’ve also included some worthy extras including a new audio commentary from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, and a new video essay from Kat Ellinger, Mark of the Beast: Myth Making and Masculinty in ‘The Catman of Paris’.

More intriguing than the film itself is the inclusion of The Republic Pictures Story, a near two-hour feature documentary directed by cowboy movie connoisseur Len Morris. Featuring interviews with all the studio’s movers and shakers including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and director William Witney, the film is a helpful guide to the surprisingly varied output of the storied studio—a reminder it was more than just cowboys and cliffhangers.