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A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
Irena Dubrovna, a beautiful and mysterious Serbian-born fashion artist living in New York City, falls in love with and marries average-Joe American Oliver Reed. Their marriage suffers though, as Irena believes that she suffers from an ancient curse- whenever emotionally aroused, she will turn into a panther and kill. Oliver thinks that is absurd and childish, so he sends her to psychiatrist Dr. Judd to cure her. Easier said than done... Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
Supervisor Lou L. Ostrow was so dissatisfied with the style of the movie he wanted to replace director Jacques Tourneur after four days of filming. Producer Val Lewton got studio head Charles Koerner to reinstate Tourneur, and when Ostrow insisted on the panther appearing in the drafting room sequence, Lewton had Tourneur use low lighting putting the panther in the shadows. See more »
When Irena does not show up at her apartment when Dr. Judd, Oliver, and Alice are waiting for her, they leave. Dr. Judd hides cane in apartment to give him an excuse to borrow Oliver's key and go back in for it, after when he leaves the door unlocked so that he can sneak back in, something hidden from Oliver and Alice. Yet after Oliver and Alice are threatened in the office, they call the apartment to warn Dr. Judd that Irena is definitely dangerous and that he should leave. See more »
At the zoo, Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) sees the mysterious Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who is sketching a black panther. He's intrigued by her--it seems to be love at first sight--and is surprised when she invites him into her apartment for a cup of tea. While in her apartment, he sees an odd statue of a man on horseback, holding a sword-skewered cat high in the air. Dubrovna tells him of her native Serbia, and the legend of unchristian "cat people" who were driven into the mountains. Dubrovna's behavior becomes increasingly odd, and animals often react strangely to her. Could she have something to do with the legend of the cat people?
This was director Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton's first horror/thriller film together (they were to do two others together, I Walked With A Zombie (1943) and The Leopard Man (1943)), and for my money, this is the best of the three. Lewton was famous for understated, atmospheric horror that suggested more than it showed, a style that is also evident in his later collaborations with director Robert Wise (who went on to direct the infamous The Haunting (1963), which is often thought to be a pinnacle of this more "suggestive" style, although it's not a particular favorite of mine).
So what does this mean? Well, a lot of younger horror fans, for whom the oldest film that they are really familiar with in the genre is something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or an even more recent film, might be reluctant to call Cat People a horror film. It is "talky", doesn't contain any graphic violence, and we don't even see a horror creature/villain until just a glimpse near the very end of the film. But it is horror--the talking is centered on a captivating supernatural "myth", there are a lot of creepy, well-photographed scenes laden with heavy shadows, there are a couple exquisite chase/suspense scenes, and there is a lot of complex, dark psychological interaction.
The psychological tension is really the focus, as Lewton and Tourneur's films together are moral parables that function more as a metaphor for horror (rather than the more common flipside, where the horror is more prominent and might be a metaphor for some other kind of philosophical point). In this case, the moral and social situations are varied and complex, but are all focused on romantic relationships, ranging from quick actions taken due to lust, to emotional distancing, adultery and abuse of power. The more one watches the film, the more one is likely to get out of the subtextual messages. They remain more subtextual than they might in modern cinema because of content restrictions imposed by studios in this era (although of course those were a reaction to prevalent cultural attitudes at the time). But in retrospect, the buried nature of the themes is a benefit, at least in this case.
Occasionally, the horrific aspect of these types of films can be too understated, so that they simply become realist dramas. That's not the case here. This is a film that is rewarding on many levels.
A 9 out of 10 from me.
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