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
After several movies made in his native France ,Jacques (Jack) Tourneur makes his first American works in the late thirties."Cat people" is the fifth one;the others are difficult to see and anyway this is this movie that is looked upon as his towering achievement(with the exception of "out of the past") .His female star,Simone Simon,whose English was perfect,enjoyed a career in both countries too:her best part is easily Jean Renoir's "la bête humaine" ,(human beast:it's funny when you know she's playing a woman-animal here).
"Cat people" belongs to the fantasy and horror genre,but it does not really follow its rules.We're close to psychological drama.(Almost) deprived of "special effects" -which is a blessing-Tourneur works with his camera the way a painter does with shadow and light to create strange dreamy atmospheres The pièces de résistance are the scene in the swimming -pool that creates a feeling of terror without using the tricks of the trade,and the scene when Oliver and Alice are in the flat,hearing roaring.
The movie was ahead of its time in several respects:the Freudian allusions would later be developed by Fritz Lang("secret beyond the door",1945) and of course Hitchcock ("Spellbound",same year).You're going to say that these two great directors give their movies a "realistic" treatment and Jack Tourneur does not.Actually,he takes a divergent way:he introduces ambiguity,this ambiguity dear to Roman Polanski .After all,it could be a mere ,so to speak, neurosis.Few of the sequences actually deal with the supernatural :most of the time,it's a couple then a triangle:the "fantastic" elements could be real :the disturbing woman,who calls Irene "my sister",the scenes with the panther at the zoo,and the pool sequence can be explained by Irène's jealousy.
Although,it's only understood ,it's obvious that the marriage Irène/Oliver has not been consummated,because of a not clearly defined reason-how can a man as pragmatist as Oliver believe in such a far-fetched curse?Isn't it the fear of woman,of the original sin?.This topic will be brilliantly taken on by Christian de Challonges "l'alliance" (1970).Note also how Richard Donner aped the pet shops scene for "the omen" (1976).
It seems that Alice's character is an easy way out,and the weak part of the movie because she's essentially here to comfort the audience,to show the way to "straight" life and to secure a happy end.
The remake (1982) destroys all ambiguity,keeps nothing from the original story but the proper nouns ,and fills its quota of nudity and blood.Stick to the Tourneur version.
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