"She's b-b-b-b-beautiful," a flummoxed WIlbur—Lou Costello in a signature role—exclaims mere seconds after receiving an entirely unexpected kiss from Joan Raymond. Little does he know that her proclaimed "love at first sight" is hardly real, and that she's in fact a shrewd insurance investigator named Joan Raymond, hatching a scheme to entrap poor Wilbur. The film is 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and the indeed beautiful actress is Jane Randolph, whose death earlier in the month at age 93 just hit the papers today.
I know, I know, it's Cat People that everybody knows Randolph for, and Cat People every tribute to her is gonna lead off with, so why not commemorate her participation in this (some would say low-rent) comedy classic? Point of fact, she's pretty amusing in it, playing poor stupid Lou for a sap.
As for 1942's Cat People, the menace-in-the-pool scene is a showcase for her, and deserves to be widely cited, but one ought not forget the through-Central-Park "chase," which ends with a fantastic shock sound effect that turns out to be...the hiss of a bus pulling up. So effective was this fake-out that for a while any such scares in subsequent films were referred to by pros and buffs as "buses." Randolph's Alice Moore has an appropriately harried and harrowed look on her face as she boards the vehicle.
I always thought there was something kind of sociologically interesting about the shift in the portrayal of Alice from the '42 Cat People to the '44 sort-of sequel The Curse of the Cat People. In the first film she's the co-worker and eventual romantic interest of unhappily married Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She's a touch wise-crackerish, a tint bohemian, full of sympathy and hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie, as implied by this smoke break by the water cooler:
The exemplary Manhattan career woman. Of course, give her a few more years and pathetic spinsterhood no doubt beckoned, at least by the lights of the zeitgeist.
In '44's Curse, Reed has married Alice, and since it's '44, there aren't quite suburbs to move to yet, so the couple head upstate, to Rip Van Winkle territory, to spawn. Still, Alice is now quite matronly, and the whole setup has a whiff of Revolutionary Road (the book or the movie, take your pick) avant la lettre to it. (Of course, Curse turns into something wholly other, and wholly wonderful.)
Judging from the news reports, Randolph herself married pretty well after a screen career that, for all intents and purposes, spanned less than a decade. There's always something intriguing about the actress—because it usually is an actress—who makes a strong impression as a young woman and then, for whatever reason, deigns not to grow old on screen. Mary Duncan of Murnau's '30 City Girl springs to mind—she made her final film in '33, and lived until 1993. Someone ought to do a survey of such figures. Maybe the Self-Styled Siren takes requests...