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
There was no "King John of Serbia" who defeated the Mamelukes as Irena claims. None of the lists of Kings/Princes of Serbia include a King John. The closest historical personage was the Holy Martyr John Vladimir [St. Jovan Vladimir], killed by Tsar Vladimir in 1015 AD. See more »
The horror genre has had many of the greatest films of all time stem from it, and Cat People is, without doubt, one of the best and most important. The film represents the first collaboration between (probably) horror's most important producer, and one of the genre's best directors. Under Val Lewton's watchful eye, Jacques Tourneur has managed to put together a film that successfully fuses a foreboding atmosphere with a terrific storyline and the result is a film with merits impossible to deny. The story starts off slowly, with Kent Smith's American gentleman meeting the Serbian beauty Simone Simon sketching a black leopard in a zoo. From there, the two fall in love amidst a backdrop of malevolence stemming from her belief that she is the victim of an ancient curse on her village that means she will transform into a black panther if emotionally aroused. The two get married anyway, but it soon becomes apparent that this curse will play a bigger part in their marriage than either of them first imagined or hoped.
There are two sides to this great movie. The first side is the technical one. Jacques Tourneur's handling of the camera is superb, and the way that the characters are manipulated into certain situations allows him to really show his talent. Consider the famous shadow-laden scene at the swimming pool, or the sequence that sees Jane Randolph being pursued by a mysterious presence. These scenes work not because of the characters or the situation; but because of the way that Tourneur captures the scene. He would go on to show this talent throughout his career, but it's done best here. The acting is typical of the forties, with much of it being soaked in melodrama. This actually helps the film because the heavy performances allow you to really get into what the film is trying to achieve and, despite the fact that the subject material is definitely 'B-class'; the acting gives it a grounding alongside the bigger budgeted films of it's day. The beautiful Simone Simon takes the lead role, and it's her persona and European origin that gives the film much of it's intrigue and mystery. Kent Smith and Jane Randolph are great in support, while Tom Conway shines like he has in several other Val Lewton films in his small but effective role as the psychiatrist.
The second side of the film concern's its story. This is the main reason why Cat People is such an enchanting piece of cinema. Soaked in mystery, the central plot - which handles themes of lust, aggression and not being able to subdue certain emotions, will always be relevant to whoever is viewing the film. While here it is portrayed in a much more extreme way than in real life, the fundamentals of what the plot is portraying exist in every person. More important than this, however, is the way that the mythology is built up around the 'cat people'. We are never really given a definite explanation as to what the curse is all about, and this allows the director to tap into the fear of the unknown, and this also allows him to keep the cards regarding the ending close to his chest throughout. Obviously, due to the time in which it was made; Cat People wasn't allowed to show shocking violence, but it implies brilliantly; and despite the fact that we never really see anything - it is easy to believe otherwise. The simple plot really helps the film as it allows it to convey what it needs to convey without getting tangled up in sub-plots and other non-essential elements; and this piece of pulp poetry really shows that you don't need an epic running time to create a successful film. I really can't recommend this film highly enough.
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