Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cat People (1942)

Director: - Jacques Tourneur
Writer(s): - DeWitt Bodeen

Simone Simon - Irena Dubrovna
Kent Smith - Oliver Reed
Tom Conway - Dr. Louis Judd
Jane Randolph - Alice Moore

 The 1942 film "Cat People" is about "A Serbian-born beauty living in New York, Irena Dubrovna (Simon) is haunted by the fear that she has been cursed. She is convinced that whenever she is emotionally aroused she will turn into a murderous panther." - Film4 review

Irena meets a man called Oliver while drawing at the zoo. He walks her home and they end up getting married but, due Irena's curse, she is unable to consummate the marriage. Oliver takes Irena to a psychiatrist as he thinks she is crazy and they gradually grow apart as she is scared to get too close to him, even to kiss. Oliver confides in his friend from work Alice who happens to be in love with him. He decides that he loves her too so when Irena finds out she starts to stalk Alice.

Although we don't really see Irena as a panther, it is heavily suggested through the shadows, sound of cat foot steps, and shredded clothes:

"Has the transformation happened? Or is it all in her mind? Producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur's magical genre-bending masterpiece still manages to dazzle you with its audacity" -Film4 review

The metamorphosis in Cat People serves as a metaphor for Irena's repressed sexual desire and her fear that if she acts of these desires she will be punished.

"Made at the height of western culture's racism (anti-semitism, sexism and imperialism still dominant in 1942), Cat People could not help but refer to oppressive social mechanisms..." - Looking for the other: feminism, film, and the imperial gaze, by E. Ann Kaplan

Irena's metamorphosis can also be seen as "a metaphor for men's fears of being overwhelmed by sexually ravenous women" - New York Magazine 12 Apr 1982

Like many horrors, Cat People is a film that relies on the unseen to build tension rather than gore and shocking imagery and in my opinion is very successful.


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