Movie Name: Cat People
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Release Date(s): December 6, 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) has a love for the panthers in the zoo. When she meets a man named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), she is forced to open up as they fall in love and marry. Oliver finds Irena cold and distant and encourages her to see Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) about her problem. Irene tells the story of her people in Serbia who believe in moments of passion they become dangerous panthers. Unable to be with Irena, Oliver is driven into the arms of his friend Alice (Jane Randolph) and seeks divorce. Now Irena is angry, and Oliver and Jane could be in danger.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur, Cat People was a smart film that did a lot with a little. It was met with mixed reviews at the time of the release, but is now often credited as a classic of horror and suspense. It was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved.
Cat People is interesting in that almost everything in the film is implied and it really works. You rarely see the panther and most attacks are seen in shadows. Scenes like the pool scene which has Jane Randolph menaced from the shadows are classic. It has such style that the film almost feels like classic crime noir combined with horror…long shadows menacing the characters and light and dark being the real enemy.
The movie has a lot of sexual tension which is unusual. Arousal and sex brings out the panther in Irene, so the whole film is about a subject that can’t be talked about in the film itself. Tourneur had to find ways around the subject so I admire DeWitt Bodeen’s script that managed to convey the implied so well.
Tourneur also introduced an important horror technique known as the “Lewton Bus”. Randolph is pursued by a creature…you can see the fear in Randolph’s face. Just when it appears Randolph could be killed, a bus pulls up to provide the jump (instead of a monster or attack). It is named after the producer Val Lewton and it is a technique that has been used in horror films ever since.
Cat People is a great film. The obvious low budget style of the film is a real contrast to what the creators got out of it. If you’ve never seen Cat People, you should check it out. Cat People was followed by Curse of the Cat People in 1944 and a remake in 1982.
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)