Cat People

1942 Movie

If you haven’t seen it:

cat-people-posterCat People is a tense film about a woman who believes she is under a curse, and is a danger to those around her.

At the time it was made, this movie was refreshing and original, being among the first horror movies to be set in contemporary times, in a modern city. Previously, horror films were always set in the gothic-steeped world of fairy-tales. Watching Cat People today of course, it does not seem refreshing nor original, but ironically it has acquired an old-fashioned charm. It is hardly terrifying by today’s standards, but it is a stylish and well-made film, and there are a couple of scenes where the director cranks up the suspense which still work very well today.

Cat People was remade in 1982 with decent special effects, a synth-heavy soundtrack, lots of blood and violence, and the outrageously sexy Nastassja Kinski (who spends half the movie naked) in the lead role. Despite Miss Kinski’s charms though, we recommend you stick with the Cat People 1942 movie.

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it..

 Plot:

cat-people-zoo
“What’s new pussycat?”

Oliver meets Irena, a Serbian immigrant, at the New York zoo, and they quickly form a relationship that leads to marriage. After the marriage though, Irena reveals that she cannot consummate the relationship because she is under a curse – she believes that if she even kisses her husband, she will turn into a panther and kill him. Oliver, understandably keen to rid his wife of this foolish belief, persuades her to visit a (rather sleazy) psychiatrist, Dr Judd. While the treatment is going on though, Oliver decides it was a mistake to get married, and he announces that he does not love Irena, and wants to leave her for another woman. Seeing an opportunity, Dr Judd makes a pass at Irena, and she turns into a panther and kills him. Irena is wounded in the attack though, and she crawls back to the zoo, where she releases a panther from its cage, before dying.

 

Steve Sunday Says:

cat-people-pool
“Dog paddle you say? No, I’m more of a cat person.”

It is almost possible to watch this movie and interpret it in such a way that Irena’s curse is just a figment of her imagination. Perhaps she does not turn into a cat at all, she just thinks she does, and she has very sharp fingernails and does a convincing impression of a panther’s snarl.

Yes, it is almost possible, but not quite. We do see a glimpse of the panther once or twice. Personally I think this is a shame, I would have preferred to have had the option of believing that Irena was insane. Perhaps she would have dressed up as her alter-ego, Norman Bates style – I can see her in my mind’s eye, prowling round New York wearing clip-on pointy ears and a fake tail, looking like a demented Batman villain, hissing at people from the shadows.

 

Trivia Trish Says:

  • The entire movie was filmed in just 18 days.
  • To save money, sets from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) were re-used.
  • After Cat People, Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur went on to make I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man together, both of which were successful.
  • Simone Simon lived to the age of 94. She died in Paris, of natural causes, in 2005. She never married, and was once the subject of some (highly dubious) gossip in which it was claimed that she gave a gold key to her boudoir to any man she was interested in, and that one of her visitors was the composer George Gershwin.

Chris the Critic says:

In 1942, RKO Picures underwent a change of direction, instituting a policy of “showmanship, not genius.” Producer Val Lewton was hired to turn out a slew of low-budget mass-appeal horror movies, in the hope that they would achieve the sort of success that Universal were having. Once employed though, Lewton had other ideas – he guided the script writers and the young French director into creating a movie that had depth and class, and more creepiness and tension than the Universal movies of that time.

The idea of not showing the monster, but keeping it in the shadows and letting the audience’s imagination paint a terrifying picture, was groundbreaking at the time. It might have been partly forced by the low budget, but it was certainly effective, and is a technique that was copied in much bigger movies years later, such as Alien and Cloverfield.

cat-people-bus
“Is this the Lewton bus?”

Another technique he pioneered, which has now also become a standard horror movie technique, is the “Lewton bus”. What is a Lewton bus, you say? Well. It is a moment in a movie when, through extreme build-up of tension, the audience is made to jump out of its skin, spilling popcorn everywhere, by something that turns out to be harmless. In Cat People, the Lewton bus is, of course, the bus that appears out of nowhere when Alice is being stalked by Irena. Other famous Lewton buses from later movies include the scene in Jaws where Ben Gardner’s head pops out of the bottom of the boat, and the scene in Alien (and every slasher movie ever made, probably) where the cat jumps out from the shadows. Yes, the people who work in cinemas today cleaning up spilled drinks and popcorn have Val Lewton to thank for making their jobs about 30% harder.

cat-people-ten
Hat people.

Main Cast and Crew:

Director – Jacques Tourneur
Producer – Val Lewton
Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna Reed
Kent Smith as Oliver Reed
Tom Conway as Dr. Louis Judd
Jane Randolph as Alice Moore

 

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