on 12 January 2003
Producer Val Lewton was forced to work with a small budget during his time with RKO, but faced with financial contraints and lack of star power, he hooked up with director Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past) to create several horror films that over 60 years later are still considered the finest ever made in the genre. "Cat People" is one of those films.
Lewton and Tourneur did this by letting the imagination of the viewer make up the horror, as everything is in the unseen. It was a device they would use in several films and it always worked. Lewton and Tourneur new that what we could imagine in our minds through cinematic suggestion was far worse than anything they could graphically show on screen.
Simone Simon, small and elegant, is perfect as the sweet Yugoslavian girl Irena Dubrovna, living in New York City and trying to fit in. Even after she meets and marries Oliver (Kent Smith) there is a shadow on her life which stands eerily between the happiness she desires and the curse she feels inside her, that of the "Cat People". Is her fear irrational or does such a thing exist?
A scene in a restaurant when 'one of her own kind' recognizes the panther inside her is particularly unsettleing. Tom Conway is the doctor who tries to help and Jane Randolph has a nice part as Oliver's friend Alice. As Irene wrestles with her fear Oliver begins to confide in Alice and it becomes obvious to Irena that there could be more. But jealously may awaken the panther inside Irena and put all their lives in danger.
A film that is full of atmosphere and dripping with doom, there are some genuinely scary moments here. A scene late at night as Irena walks alone down the street and a terrifying scene by a pool are both legendary. Simone Simon brought a fragile, and yes, cat like grace to the role, and gives a terrific performance. We feel her fear and feel sorry for her.
Watch this one late at night, but don't watch it alone...!
on 21 September 2000
Cat People is a horror film before the days of CGI and vivid body counts. Tense, dark, tragic and romantic, this movie is the hypnotic tale of a woman's curse in pursuing the happiness of love.So many moments are left to the imagination whilst never selling us short. Top drawer.
For me "Cat People" the 1942 original is a real classic and was a daring film for its time. Moreover if you consider the powers and tenets of Hays Code (which covered all US film making at the time); which were meant to “preserve public morality”, from overzealous film makers. The film can truly be called daring and original.
This 1942 movie gets under your skin. "Cat People" is fabricated almost entirely out of fear. There wasn't a budget for much of anything else. With a narrative that has running time of just over one hour ten minutes. This is a film with little, if nothing, in the way of special effects. There are no major stars; the violence is indirect or to be implied - but not much seen. Yet the film, made as a B picture for only $135,000, became top earner for 1942, bringing in $4 million and staved off the studios debts.
Boy meets girl, where Irena is sketching a panther at the zoo when she meets the clean-cut architect Oliver Reed He walks her home, she asks him in for tea, and they fall in love. She talks of her village in Serbia, of the credence to a tale that shielded satanic cultists could take the form of cats. The good King tried to eradicate these cat people, but some fled into the mountains, where they are said to live to this day. Irena secretly fears she is one of those people. There is something subtly alarming about the oddly genteel good-girl behaviour. Irena is a beautiful woman who never sleeps with her new husband, not even a kiss, because she fears that her desire could turn her into a panther. There is the unearthly detachment of Kent Smith as her husband. It come as no surprise that Smith begins to work late at the office, where his co-worker Alice is all too sympathetico to his situation. For the rest you had better see the movie.
The sets that depict the rooms and streets do not look like places but like ideas of places. There is clear mastery of the use of light and shadow. Irena often placed in darkness, with the casted silhouettes of other characters on the wall behind her, they enclose her with shadows that work like a cage.
For me there something touching about Irena, who has never had a friend and she fears, she will kill the only person she loves, and is told she is insane. At the end, Oliver pays her a simple tribute: "She never lied to us.
The first thing you should notice is that this is a Producer Val Lewton film. Val was given the film title in hopes of luring people in that liked cheap thrillers. However as with all Val Lewton films we get a classic physiological thriller of which we can see more with each viewing.
At the New Orleans zoo, Architect Oliver 'Ollie' Reed (Kent Smith) meets a strange woman Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), with a European accent; He strikes up a conversation which leads to his marrying her. She seems shy, but she actually carries a sinister secret.
Seems she knows she came from a line of "Cat People" and passion can bring out her claws. This is reinforced in a scene at a restaurant where another one of her kind (Elizabeth Russell) who recognizes Irena for what she is. Irena also suspects her new hubbie's female assistant Alice Moore (Jane Randolph) has designs on him. So we get a spooky scene at a swimming pool at night when Alice is alone in the gym.
There was not enough money or sufficient technology to show scary cat people. They tried people in cat suits, but they just looked cutesy. So they decided to just show shadows and sounds. The rest was up to your imagination. It is a psychological movie with a touch of film noir.
on 6 June 2016
This film may be black and white (it has been re-made) but is a superior film. Another case of why did they even bother with a re-make !
on 8 July 2014
This was a film I'd read about and wanted to see for years and so I as worried that it wasn't going to quite live up to my expectations. Sadly, that's exactly what happened. There are one or two superb moments, the walk to the bus stop, the swimming pool, but I didn't think it had aged well and it's reputation outweighs reality. Still interesting viewing, but not the horror classic it's reputation suggests.
Says psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd, author of The Anatomy of Atavism, to Irena Reed, his reluctant patient. He is describing the things they have just talked about. "...and the cat women of your village, too. You told me of them, women who in jealousy or anger or out of their own corrupt passions can change into great cats, like panthers. And if one of these women were to fall in love, and her lover was to kiss her and to take her into his embrace, she would be driven by her own evil to kill him."
For me, this overripe bit of psychiatry from the suave, moth-eaten Tom Conway as Judd is about as good as Cat People gets. The film is a Poverty Row B movie which was made on a shoestring in 1942, when theaters played two-movie bills with cartoons, short subjects, a news reel and coming attractions. Studios cranked out hundreds of B movies to fill the bottom half of those double bills.
Cat People, along with the other movies producer Val Lewton ground out using talented (and cheap) directors and writers and using titles given to him by his studio, has gotten a lot of retrospective praise, especially for the camerawork, lighting and directing. But for me, Cat People is something of a disappointment. Without a budget to speak of and with B level actors, he and director Jacques Tourneur had to rely on implied fear, creepy situations with few payoffs and characters who, frankly, I didn't care much about.
Irena (Simone Simon), has come to America from a village in Serbia. She believes that in the throws of passion she will turn into a large and violent cat. This naturally slows things down quite a bit in her new marriage to square-jawed and infinitely patient Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She's not helped when her husband finally has had enough and decides he's really in love with his co-worker, Alice Moore (Jane Randolph). The denouement involves a sword cane, a key to open the panther cage at the zoo and the realization by Oliver and Alice that Irena wasn't kidding.
The movie has two brief but genuinely creepy moments: When Alice is walking home late at night and senses someone, or something, is behind her, and Alice in the swimming pool of her residential apartment. She's all by herself...except she hears a guttural growl. The dark shadows, the moving light reflected from the water onto the walls, the knowledge that something is there with her is enough to put anyone off swimming for a while.
For me, the movie was interesting, even fun to watch. It looked good for what it was, a low budget B movie. I think it's stretching things a bit, as some professional critics are doing, to call it a kind of low-budget masterpiece. If you like B movies from the Forties, and I do a lot, watch it, enjoy and decide for yourself.
Simone Simon, in my opinion, had one of the most knowing glances of any actress I've ever seen. In this movie, unfortunately, her curse was not turning into a panther but having to wear her hair in a really unattractive fashion. To see her at her best, both in looks and in portraying self-centered sexuality, check out La Bete Humaine.
Also keep an eye out for Theresa Harris, the black actress who plays the waitress in the cafe Oliver frequents. She's unbilled, as she was in most of the movies during her long career. She makes an impression in a tiny role.
on 14 January 2012
What an excellent nailbiting film. Edge of the seat stuff. Would definitely recomend this film. Makes it all the more intense being in black and white.
Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 'horror’ is strictly B-movie material in terms of its production values – with its at times stilted acting and clichéd dialogue – making the fact of its being an original, ground-breaking and highly influential film all the more remarkable. Of course, anyone looking for 'slasher thrills’ of the modern multiplex horror variety should look elsewhere, as Tourneur’s film (with a screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen) is all about subtle suggestion, psychology and the unseen. Tourneur’s eye for visual cinematic detail is always to the fore here and his collaboration with cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (with whom he would go on to shoot the classic film noir Out Of The Past) is highly impressive (despite the film’s low budget), with its frequently unnerving use of light and shadow.
The mythological witchcraft/cat people heritage of Simone Simon’s Serbian sketch artist now plying her trade in New York, Irena Dubrovna, makes for an intriguing, if a little fanciful, backdrop to the film’s narrative, as Irena falls for (and rapidly marries) Kent Smith’s engineer Oliver Reed. The film’s daring and original theme, that of linking Irena’s sexuality to that of her propensity for (perhaps) morphing into her feline equivalent, was way ahead of its time and is key to the film’s success – it’s just the sort of premise you could imagine Hitchcock using. The ever-glamorous Simon and Smith do solid (if unspectacular) jobs in their roles, whilst Brit Tom Conway impresses as the smooth-talking, George Sanders-like, psychiatrist, Dr Louis Judd, to whom Irena is referred because of her ‘problem’. But, it is in its subtle mood and visuals where Tourneur’s film really scores. There are sublime sequences as Irena undergoes her first session (on the couch, under the lamp) with Judd and when she 'stalks’ her rival, Jane Randolph’s glamorous co-worker to Oliver, Alice Moore, first through lamplit streets and then during the swimming pool sequence, plus the footage of the big cats – the black panther, in particular – in the zoo ratchets up the menace factor. There are also nice touches as Irena ‘claws’ the upholstery and protagonists cower in the face of caterwauling sound effects.
It’s far from being a perfect film – but as a low-budget, atmospheric, subtle, highly visual and influential ‘horror’, it is hard to beat.
on 7 March 2015
Classic b movie.