7.4/10
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143 user 119 critic

Cat People (1942)

Not Rated | | Fantasy, Horror, Thriller | 25 December 1942 (USA)
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.

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Storyline

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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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She knew strange, fierce pleasures that no other woman could ever feel! See more »


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

25 December 1942 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Cat People  »

Box Office

Budget:

$134,000 (estimated)

Gross:

$4,000,000 (USA)
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was such a hit at the box office, the releases of the next two Lewton films (I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Leopard Man (1943)) were delayed. See more »

Goofs

When the shepherd arrives and finds the dead sheep, there's a live sheep sitting behind him. After a brief shot of the footprints that he's examining, the film returns to a shot of the shepherd, and the sheep is gone. See more »

Quotes

Oliver 'Ollie' Reed: You know, it's a funny thing. I've never been unhappy before. Things have always gone swell for me. I had a grand time as a kid. Lots of fun at school and here at the office with you.
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Crazy Credits

[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 »

Connections

Featured in Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007) See more »

Soundtracks

Nothin' Else To Do
(uncredited)
Traditional
Arranged by Bernard Herrmann
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
My favorite Lewton/Tourneur Collaboration
25 January 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

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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