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There is an odd and undoubtable connection between three 20th-century, American movies. They were each released 10 years apart: 1942, 1952 and 1962. They cross two directors and two studios. Why these movies were linked, frankly, I don’t know. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. It also doesn’t hurt that all three are great movies.

Two people, man and woman, on left of shot, half in the shadow. They are dressed like common Americans in the 1950s. On the wall are the numbers 1 through 10.

Cat People is a 1942 RKO movie produced by Val Lewton. Lewton was an infamous producer of the 20th century that was known for his low-budget horror movies. Cat People was his first production for RKO. He followed this feline fright fest with other campy classics like I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher. In Cat People, Lewton opted to never show the cat people, using only the tricks of the cinematic trade to create the illusion of something otherworldly. These tricks include lighting and shadows, sound, and cut editing. In Cat People, fear comes not so much from what is seen but, rather, what is unseen. For example, in the third act, Jane Randolph is drying off after a swim when strange shadows and noises strike fear into her heart. To get away from this unseen terror, she leaps back into the pool. While wading in the water, the overwhelming shadows make her unable to distinguish between reality and her imagination. Terrified by her conscious, she begins to scream, hollering for help. Simone Simon, the star of the movie, flicks the lights on for Randolph, revealing that surely there is nothing to be afraid of. However, something is afoot, for her bath robe is ripped to shreds. By not showing the cat people, Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur were able to captivate the audience’s anxiety while keeping their budget in the low six figures.

Two men sit in a studio screening room. They are thinking. They both have their feet up. They're not looking at each other. Both are in their own world.

A decade later, in 1952, MGM produced The Bad and The Beautiful, a melodrama set in Hollywood, directed by Vincente Minnelli. In the movie, Kirk Douglas and Barry Sullivan are charged with making a movie called Doom of the Cat Men. At this point in their fictional careers, Douglas and Sullivan are an up-and-coming producer and director, respectively. Although the job is a good one, their budget is limited. They feel disconcerted when they’re shown the crummy costumes these cat men are supposed to wear. They retreat to a studio screening room to think. Deep in thought, they consider what scares people the most. They realize that nothing scares the audience more than the dark. Thus, if they never show the cat men, they’ll allow the audience’s imagination to fill with fear of the unknown while also keeping the movie’s budget in balance. This clever workaround makes for a unique plot point and a subtle homage to RKO’s 1940s low-budget horror movies.

Another 10 years would go by until we received the third and final instalment in this quasi-trilogy. In 1962, MGM released another Minnelli/Douglas collaboration: Two Weeks in Another Town. Another Hollywood-centred melodrama, this technicolour feature had the advantage of its beautiful setting: Rome. In this stylish movie, which was a box-office bomb, Douglas plays a washed-up actor who takes a job in the Italian capital. During the movie, he sits in a Cinecittà screening room and watches clips from his old movies. The clips shown are of Douglas in The Bad and The Beautiful. Minnelli frames it as if this is an old movie that Douglas’s character in Two Weeks in Another Town starred in before he ruined his career. When it really was a movie Minnelli and Douglas made together for MGM a decade prior. It creates a meta moment that I can think of no comparisons for.

A man is slouched in a movie theatre seat. He is watching a movie. In the background are other people watching the movie. They sit on red chairs. Smoke is in the air and can be seen in the light of the projector.

Through three decades, Minelli, MGM and RKO weaved an obscure trilogy of stylish movies that were interconnected for no clear purpose. From the technical concepts in Cat People that were stolen and used as plot points in The Bad and The Beautiful to The Bad and The Beautiful being a part of the fictional world of Two Weeks in Another Town, these three Old Hollywood movies will be eternally linked in this odd trilogy.

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