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.
Serbian national Irena Dubrovna, a fashion sketch artist, has recently arrived in New York for work. The first person who she makes a personal connection with there is marine engineer Oliver Reed. The two fall in love and get married despite Irena's reservations, not about Oliver but about herself. She has always felt different than other people, but has never been sure why. She lives close to the zoo, and unlike many of her neighbors is comforted by the sounds of the big cats emanating from the zoo. And although many see it purely as an old wives' tale, she believes the story from her village of ancient residents being driven into witchcraft and evil doing, those who managed to survive by escaping into the mountains. After seeing her emotional pain, Oliver arranges for her to see a psychiatrist to understand why she believes what she does. In therapy, Dr. Judd, the psychiatrist, learns that she also believes, out of that villagers' tale, that she has descended from this evil - women ... Written by
Irena makes reference to the people of her village having mass, however this is only a Western Catholic term. As a Serb, she would likely be Eastern Orthodox and thus would use the term "Divine Liturgy." See more »
You're very wise, you know a great deal, yet when you speak of the soul, you mean the mind, and it is not my mind that is troubled.
Dr. Louis Judd:
What a clever girl. All the psychologists have tried for years to find that subtle difference between mind and soul, and you've found it.
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[From the opening credits] "Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depression in the world consciousness."- "The Anatomy of Atavism"- Dr. Louis Judd 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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