Kitten with a Whip


Women are capable of lying, and they can lie about being victimized. Of course, it’s a sensitive dance of reception, to balance immediate belief with testing your suspicions: do you assert an inquisition every time someone claims they’ve been wronged, or do you take their word at face value? Is it inappropriate to investigate into the facts of every story, or is it in everyone’s best interest to seek evidence-based truth as much as possible? At what point does belief quit leading the journey and instead become the destination at which you’ve arrived?

In Douglas Heyes’s Kitten with a Whip (1964), we meet underaged Jody (a 23-year-old Ann-Margret) who has just escaped from a juvenile institution where she had stabbed the ward on her way out into San Diego’s night. When she sneaks into David’s (John Forsythe) house, conveniently empty of his wife and daughter, David finds himself ensnared in the center of a malicious and deranged web of games involving attraction and rejection, reality and fantasy, security and deception, and societal expectations.

Despite her beauty and coy gestures, David is genuinely not interested in Jody’s sex appeal. He’s just a man trying to get this kid out of his house - until Jody wields a non-negotiable threat when David tries to make a firm and civil attempt to call the police: she’ll “start screaming rape” if he tells anyone she’s there. Defeated that he cannot risk trying to tell the cops the truth about Jody’s breaking-and-entering, David submits to a rollercoaster hell that includes Jody wearing his wife’s clothes and inviting over her philosophically cultish friends. It is hard not to entirely hate Jody.

The nightmare ends with a surprisingly violent sequence of handheld camerawork (by Joseph Biroc, who had also filmed Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie a year earlier) and a poorly-lit car chase at night that could almost be the inspiration for the show Cops (premiering 25 years later). What’s really amazing about Kitten with a Whip isn’t the way in which Jody and her friends worm their way under your skin and boil your blood with incessant dialogue, but how relieving it is when the film wraps up in a tidy, succinct conclusion. There are no loose ends, there is no mystery - and there is certainly no remaining evidence of what we know is the truth.

Past Screenings