Cat People

Jacques Tourneur, 1942, USA, 72 minutes

Producer Lewton always put his own touch to a film, and this his first, shows it more clearly and effectively than his later efforts. This is an atmosphere picture, which, while not truly terrifying, is totally gripping; the absorbing imagery will not allow you to remove your gaze from the screen.

The hero Kent Smith (devoid of sex appeal, but compensating in talent and believeability) meets a small, kittenish Serbian girl Irana (Simone Simon) who is drawing stark fantasies of the panthers in the zoo. Irana lives a totally secluded life, in a house overlooking the zoo, where she surrounds herself with ornaments and pictures of cats, and listens to the panthers crying at night. Irana makes life difticult for her would-be suitor, for she is convinced that she is descended from a village of witches, and if she ever gets angry, emotional or passionate, she will transform into a giant, vicious cat and kill at random.

Kent Smith spends the picture trying to get a psychiatrist's help for Irana, but begins to wonder if she could be telling the truth, especially when a workmate shows an interest in him, arousing envy in Irana. And jealousy is a strong emotion...

The real stars are Simone Simon and the director/producer team of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton. Simon gives such a believable performance as the beleaguered girl that we have to feel sorry for her, even if she is crazy. The film is so tense and spellbinding, that it totally eclipses the inferior, and somewhat lewd, Paul Schrader '82 remake which had Nastassia Kinski trying hard as Irana, but receiving little help from the cast or crew. Accept no imitations, this is the real thing.

Review by Martin Hunt
Taken from EUFS Programme 1993-94