May 28, 2009
Jane Randolph (1915 - 2009)
ABOVE: (l-r) Jane Randolph, Simone Simon and Kent Smith in Cat People.
Jane Randolph began as a bit player in Warner Brothers pictures (Manpower; The Male Animal) -and was reportedly an ice-skating model for Bambi- before accepting second female leads in RKO programmers. Her swansong was in the Universal classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein before marrying businessman Jaime del Amo and retiring from the screen. But of all her twenty film appearances in eight years, her enduring fame rests largely on two of the greatest horror sequences in the 1940's.
Cat People (1942) was the first of many Val Lewton-produced horror pictures of its decade, which suggested much of their supernatural elements through sounds, shadows and offscreen imagery (a budgetary consideration that became a lovely aesthetic). These classy RKO films, while perhaps a bit too talky today, were a nice alternative to the Universal monsters, who had become degenerated for an increasingly juvenile audience.
In this classic, Jane Randolph is Alice Moore, whose co-worker Oliver has a jealous wife Irena (Simone Simon), whose lineage is of ancestry that can also change its form into a panther. One night Alice is being followed by Irena. The clicking of sandals become a deafening silence, the shadows in the streets loom ominously, and then suddenly we hear a huge ROAR.... from a streetcar that Alice nearly collides with. Then she goes to the spa to have a dip in the pool. While she is in the water (in a dark room eerily illuminated by the ghostly, rippling reflections from the pool) strange sounds occur from offscreen, and she lets out a scream. The lights come back on, and she is safe for now, but then finds that her street clothes have been ripped to shreds.
Jane Randolph reprised her role in the excellent, underrated sequel The Curse of the Cat People (1944) (more of a modern Gothic fantasy than a horror film), whose lonely daughter has an imaginary friend.... Irena. (For my money, this and The Seventh Victim are the best of the Lewton cycle.) While her legacy is small, Jane Randolph left classic movie fans some memorable screen moments.