Cat People (1942)
cat people | jacques tourneur | dewitt bodeen | simone simon | tom conway | kent smith | fantasy | thriller | united states | jane randolph | jack holt | curse | shapeshifter | henrietta burnside | alec craig | eddie dew | elizabeth dunne | dynamite | dot farley
Film: Cat People
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: DeWitt Bodeen
Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway and Kent Smith
This film that I’m not completely sure when I first heard about it. I’m assuming at some point I read about it in Fangoria’s Top 300 horror movies issue as well as an encyclopedia I’m working through. I liked this movie the first time that I saw it. The more I’ve learned about it, the more interesting this one is. I’ve now given it a second viewing as part of my Trek through the Twos. The synopsis is an American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland’s fables if they are intimate together.
We start this movie off with a quote and we also see a statue of a man on a horse. He is holding a sword in the air and a cat impaled on it. It then shifts to a zoo where Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is drawing a picture of a panther. She tears off the page she’s working on and throws it away. She doesn’t make it in the trash can and Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) picks it up. He takes the opportunity to chat with her. They flirt a bit. He asks if she is an artist and she tells him she is not. She tears another sheet off and he makes it into the trash can for her. She tears off another and drops it on the ground. As they walk away, we see that it is the panther with a knife stabbed into it.
Oliver walks her home and then she invites him up for tea. He stays there for awhile and we see the statue from earlier. He asks about it and she tells him the story of her hometown. She is from Serbia. Ruling over it was a group none as the Mamelukes. They were witches and worshiped Satan. Also, part of the legend is that they could become giant cats when they kiss their love. The problem is they would kill that person as well. This statue is King John who liberated the village. The problem is that he also allowed some to stay there that were good at hiding their stance.
The two start to date. Oliver talks about Irena while he is work. He works with Alice Moore (Jane Randolph). They’re quite close, but she is in love with him. Oliver brings a cat to work that he is going to give to Irena. We see the cat getting along just fine with Alice. He then takes it to Irena and it freaks out. It doesn’t like her. She says that cats do not seem to like her. They take it back to the pet shop to get a bird instead. When they go inside, all the animals start to freak out.
As these two get closer, Oliver wants to kiss her. She refuses, telling him the story of her village and what will happen to her if they do. They two do get married and he wants her to see a doctor about her fears. She does see Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway). She thinks that it is helping, but she is quite upset when her husband reveals that Alice recommended this doctor. It becomes a love triangle as Irena pushes her husband toward Alice. The story that she believes might have truth to it about her condition as well.
That is where I’ll leave my recap for this as I feel that fleshes out the synopsis a bit more. This film was interesting to me. Upon updating this review, I believe that Horror Haven, a podcast I used to listen to talked about this and that sparked more interest than just a movie title on the list. I’ve also learned a bit more about Val Lewton, who produced this ahead of this second viewing. I bring him up as he wanted to make movies to rival what Universal was doing and I think we get that with this one here. There is depth to it that I quite enjoyed.
To delve more into this, I’ll shift to the backstory to this film. It is interesting to me the legend of the Serbian village that Irena was raised in. Even going further than that, I love the psychosis she has that the story is true, to the point where she refuses to kiss someone she loves because she is afraid that she will become a giant cat and kill them. Having Dr. Judd here to try to get her to explore this was interesting to me. Rational thought is that what she thinks isn’t real. Her belief in it though makes you wonder if it is true or not.
Her belief in this pushes us to a subplot of the love triangle. Oliver fell for Irena from the first time he saw her. She feels the same way. She is having guilt that she is not showing her husband intimacy, even though she loves him. I’m thinking that this movie was tame due to censorship issues of the era. I won’t hold that against the movie. Irena also is jealous of Alice. As that feeling grows, she stalks Oliver when he tries to give her space. Alice on the other hand is having guilt of what she is doing by seeing him behind Irena’s back. She does love Oliver though.
Going along with this is the idea of Irena being a cat person or just thinking she is. Personally, I like that most of this movie could be read either way. I think by the end, we get a definite answer. To look at it from a rational mind, the guilt Alice is feeling could be seen as the creature she thinks is following her. This also gives Irena an excuse as she is fearful of intimacy. Regardless, the ending of the film also brings a couple images from the beginning full circle which I appreciate.
Then to move away from the story, I’ll go to the acting. I thought it was good. Simon was cute in this film and her accent helped that. She gives off a look of being young and almost inexperienced. I thought it played well for her character. Her change to become more aggressive as she is slowly losing her husband was interesting too. Smith is very charming, but I do lose some respect for him as the film goes on. It is hard to blame him as his wife is not giving him the attention he needs. His performance was fine. Conway was good as the doctor. He gets a little creepy in the end. Randolph was also easy on the eyes. I thought she is a bit shady in trying to take Smith from Simon as well. The rest of the cast round out the film well.
I’ll then take this to the effects, cinematography and the soundtrack. There isn’t really anything in the way of effects in this film. That is also due to the era. All the animals were great though, especially the big cats. The cinematography is where this shines as we have some cool shots. There is a swimming pool scene that is tension filled. I also thought the climax sequence was good. A lot is done with shadows, which can help to avoid using bad effects. I was fine with this. The soundtrack didn’t necessarily stand out to me, but it also doesn’t hurt the film either.
Now with that said, this is an interesting film. It had a back-story I liked with a myth in a Serbian village. The story of what plays out is interesting and I liked the subtext. The acting drives this film. Our three main stars were great with the rest of the cast rounding it out well. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects. They do some interesting angles and shots. The score also didn’t stand out, but it doesn’t hurt it either. Now I will warn you, this film is in black and white as well as from 1940s. If that is an issue, then I’d avoid this one. If not, I’d recommend giving it a viewing. I thought it was a good film with a lot to take in.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10