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USA 1942
Directed by
Jacques Tourneur
73 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Cat People (1942)

Regarded by aficionados of the horror genre as a classic, and worth a viewing if only for that, this story of a sexually-repressed Serbian woman living in New York who believes herself atavistically cursed has some interesting elements but requires forbearance with respect to its B grade characteristics, especially the leaden acting and stolid movement through its narrative.

Simone Simon plays the Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) and B-grade stalwart, Kent Smith, her husband Oliver Reed (no, not THAT Oliver Reed) who has to deal with the fact that Irena will not consummate the marriage because she believes that she will turn into a wild cat if libidinally aroused. The story is derived from a Serbian folk legend and is infused with the Freudianism that was popular in Hollywood that manifest itself in some el primo B grade psychobabble).

The studio insisted on a more literal interpretation of the story than Tourneur wanted. Needless to say, it is the imaginary psychological aspects that are the film’s strengths with two memorable scenes, one set near the zoo that Irena visits at night and one involving a swimming pool, nicely balancing the real/imaginary ambiguities of the story and the demands of the production.

FYICat People was the first collaboration between Tourneur and Val Lewton (b. Vladimir Ivan Leventon) a former story editor for David O. Selznick before moving to RKO.  It was followed by a loosely related 1944 sequel, Curse Of The Cat People, directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise making his directorial debut.  Paul Schrader remade the film in 1982 to risible effect with Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell in the leads.




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