Movie Critique - Cat People

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A very underrated horror classic that has come to become an influential film with some brilliant direction, acting and stunts. 

Cat People is a 1942 American horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton. The film has Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway and Jane Randolph in the lead cast. Screenplay was written by DeWitt Bodeen. 

Serbian born fashion illustrator, Irena Dubrovna (portrayed by Simone Simon) gets obsessed with the legend that she may be a descendant of an ancient shape-shifting tribe, Cat People, who can shift to jaguars when aroused. Fear of becoming one of the Cat People, Irena keeps her newlywed husband, Oliver Reed (portrayed by Kent Smith) at bay pushing him to find affection in his assistant, Alice Moore (portrayed by Jane Randolph) who is in love with him as well. 

When TCM aired this film, it was introduced by Dave Karger, the TCM host, along-side writer and historian David J. Skal where Skal's book "Fright Favorites - 21 movies to haunt your Halloween and beyond" was introduced as well. 

In the 1952 American melodrama, The Bad and the Beautiful, the characters Jonathan Shields (portrayed by Kirk Douglas) and Fred Amiel (portrayed by Barry Sullivan) work on their first horror film called " The Doom of the Cat Men", the plot that they devise is based on this film. Just like in real how RKO just gave the title "Cat People" to director Tourneur and his team and asked to create a film out of it, in the film The Bad and the Beautiful, producer Harry Pebbel (portrayed by Walter Pidgeon) does the same with Shields & Amiel.

Editor Mark Robson developed a famous technique called The Lewton Bus, a jump scare that scores of horror films and thrillers use it to date. Not only the jump scare, but the film in itself had become an inspiration for several horror films that were made in 1940s and 1950s. 

The trick that Newton used in this film and all of his films in the horror genre is not to show the monster clearly. We fully see the panther/jaguar only in the scenes where it is inside a cae, perhaps 3 times or so. Rest of the time it is more of shadows, glimpses, roars/growls & footprints. That added to chillness of the horror than actually showing the monster. He lets the viewers imagine in their mind the scariness of the monster; and the fear of being stalked; making it more effective.

The film had an incredibly tight budget, so filmmakers re-used sets from the 1942 drama film The Magnificent Ambersons and 1941 comedy film The Devil and Miss Jones. Despite categorized as a B-movie, the film garnered lot of fame and success, playing in theaters longer than expected.

The opening credits are overlaid on an image of a jaguar ferociously growling. And ends with a final title with a quote from a fictional book "The Anatomy of Atavism" by Dr. Louis Judd, who is a character in the film played by Tom Conway. The quote is overlaid on a statue of a warrior on a horse impaling a large cat on his sword. The same statue is later seen in the movie too.

Simone Simon is a pretty little thing as Irena Dubrovna; with her cute voice and pretty eyes. She makes a very beautiful cat woman although she isnt shown as a cat at all, just her moves and actions.

This is Kent Smith's third film role. He plays the part of Oliver Reed, who falls like stone for the beautiful Irena Dubrova in the film. He is charming and suave. You can remember seeing him as Doctor Robert Morton in the famous TV Soap Opera of the 60s, The Peyton Place. However I remember him from Perry Mason TV show episodes. 

Tom Conway as Dr. Louis Judd is more of a philandering kind rather than a psychiatrist. He reminded me so much of George Sanders and when I googled him I found that he is indeed brother of George Sanders. I remember hearing his voice on radio in the old time radio podcasts for various episodes of The Falcon, Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond and The Saint. I remember seeing him in the 1940 spy film Sky Murder as one of the antagonists.

However the highlight of the movie is the swimming pool scene where the jaguar stalks Alice Moore when she is swimming. The viewer really doesn’t see the cat, just hears the growling and roaring; and the play of light and shadow on the walls of the swimming pool putting enough fear in their minds. Brilliantly done.

A very underrated horror classic that has come to become an influential film with some brilliant direction, acting and stunts. You will never see your concrete jungle in the same way again after watching this movie. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. A sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, was made in 1944, in which Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph reprised their roles.

b. A remake of the film was made in 1982 with the same title, directed by Paul Schrader.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the opening scene, Oliver is seen drinking a bottle of soda at the vendor stand with another woman beside him. But in the next scene after he shows the sign to Simone and when the camera flips back to him, the woman beside him has disappeared. Did the filmmakers forget to bring her back in retakes?

b. The page that Simone tears it off and drops on the floor of the zoo seems to have only a small drawing on the top center of the page. Even when the page is shown flying off, there is only a small drawing at the top center. However when the entire page is shown in close-up you can see the drawing of a jaguar being impaled by a sword.

c. The back of Oliver's raincoat is drenched thickly to marginally wet to very very wet in between shots in the pet store. 

d. When the shepherd arrives and finds dead sheep. A live sheep is sitting behind him. However after the scene of showing cat footprints and when the scene returns to the shephred, the live sheep is gone.

e. Dr. Judd leaves his cane in the apartment of Irena Dubrova, hiding it tucked inside the sofa cushions. However when he goes back in to retrieve it, he picks it up from leaning against the sofa.


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