Cat People - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1942


Director: Jacques Tourneur

Production: RKO Radio Pictures Inc.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 73 minutes. Released December 1942. Filmed 1942 in RKO/Radio studio in Hollywood; RKO-Pathe studio in Culver City; swimming pool scene shot at a hotel in the Alvarado district of Los Angeles; and zoo scenes shot at Central Park Zoo; cost: $134,000.


Producer: Val Lewton; screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen; photography: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: Mark Robson; music: Roy Webb.


Cast: Simone Simon ( Irena Dubrovna ); Kent Smith ( Oliver Reed ); Tom Conway ( Dr. Louis Judd ); Jane Randolph ( Alice Moore ); Jack Holt ( Commodore ); Elizabeth Russell ( Cat Woman ); Alan Napier; Elizabeth Dunne.

Cat People
Cat People

Publications


Books:

Clarens, Charles, editor, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film , New York, 1967.

Higham, Charles, and Joel Greenberg, The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak , London, 1969.

Siegel, Joel E., The Reality of Terror , New York, 1973.

Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.

Willemen, Paul, and Claire Johnston, Jacques Tourneur , Edinburgh, 1975.

Annan, David, Movie Fantastic: Beyond the Dream Machine , New York, 1975.

Telotte, J. P., Dreams of Darkness: Fantasy and the Films of Val Lewton , Chicago, 1985.

Fujiwara, Chris, Jacques Tourneur , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1998.


Articles:

Variety (New York), 18 November 1942.

Myers, Henry, "Weird and Wonderful," in Screen Writer (London), July 1945.

Tourneur, Jacques, "Taste Without Clichés," in Films and Filming (London), November 1956.

Sarris, Andrew, "Esoterica," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

Ellison, Harlan, "Three Faces of Fear," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), March 1966.

Wood, Robin, "The Shadow Worlds of Jacques Tourneur," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Vianni, C., in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Summer 1976.

Bodeen, DeWitt, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 1 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1981.

Bertolussi, S., "Il bacio della pantera," in Cineforum (Bergamo), April 1982.

Turner, George, "Val Lewton's Cat People ," in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), May-June 1982.

Telotte, J. P., "Dark Patches: Structures of Absence in Lewton's Cat People ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Autumn 1982.

Lucas, William D., "The Two Cat People ," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), November 1982.

Romney, Jonathan, "New Ways to Skin a Cat," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Spring-Fall 1984.

Barrot, O., in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1985.

Hollinger, K., "The Monster as Woman: Two Generations of Cat People," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), no. 2, 1989.

Bansak, E., "Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy, the Jacques Tourneur Films," in Midnight Marquee (Baltimore), Spring 1990.

Larson, R. D., "The Quiet Horror Music of Roy Webb: Scoring Val Lewton," in Midnight Marquee (Baltimore), Spring 1990.

Berks, J., "What Alice Does: Looking Otherwise at The Cat People ," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 32, no. 1, 1992.

Hollinger, Karen, "Karen Hollinger on John Berk's 'What Alice Does: Looking Otherwise at The Cat People ,"' in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 33, no. 1, Fall 1993.

Télérama (Paris), 24 May 1997.

Rohrer Paige, Linda, "The Transformation of Woman: The 'Curse' of the Cat Woman in Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur's Cat People , its Sequel, and Remake," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Vol. 23, no. 4, October 1997.

Loban, L., "Wise Child," in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock, New Jersey), no. 27, 1998.


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While analysts of horror have long examined its psychological roots in a displacement of sexual drives and desires, few films made the link between horror and sexuality as explicit as Cat People (at least until the 1970s where the link becomes a central theme, as in Carrie , for example). The film's central conceit—that the arousal of emotion could turn a woman into a panther—is a dramatic literalization of a metaphor of sexual energy as a living force.

Yet Cat People represents no simple endorsement of a sexist stereotype in which feminine sexuality is connected to a notion of unbridled devouring animality (as is the case in film noir's figuration of the independent woman as a kind of spider). Quite the contrary, through a reversal of horror's usual convention where an ostensibly normal world is threatened by a monstrosity, Cat People puts the cat woman, Irena, in the position of a victim whose "monstrous" reaction to the encroachments of the world upon her is viewed by the film with a degree of pathos-filled empathy and even perhaps a positive envy.

Irena becomes a mark of difference, an exotic other, that bourgeois society cannot understand and so ignores, represses, or controls through a force of domination. As in Hitchcock's films where the villain is often more attractive than the boring good guys, so too in Cat People the middle-class world appears as a dull, dulling banality whose own self-confidence only partially masks an inability to recognize either its own problems or those of outsiders to its circumscribed value system. This process is most explicit in a painful scene where Oliver Reed and Alice Moore literally exile Irena from their company during a supposedly pleasant visit to a museum.

Moreover, the very force that promotes itself as a cure in such a world—that is, the force of medicine (here the psychiatrist, Dr. Judd)—reveals itself to be more of a danger than the supposed illness that it sets out to cure. Not only does Judd fail to recognize Irena's problem, but he provokes its continuation, betraying his ostensibly professional objectivity by an aggressive sexual desire. If we traditionally associate the monster with the freak, it is significant that it is Judd, not Irena, who comes off as the monstrous figure, his crippled gait a mark of deformity, an abnormality within the field of an imputed normality. Indeed, one can even suggest that the film portrays male sexuality as more dangerous than female sexuality, Irena at least tries to control rationally her own condition while the men around her advance heedlessly (for example, Oliver refuses her arguments against marriage; Judd refuses her protestations against a kiss). Thus, while Cat People has many of the conventional trappings of the horror film such as shadowy photography, a subtle creation of suspense (the panther's presence is often more felt than seen), and a concatenation of mysterious events, the film is finally most significant less as an efficient source of scary jolts than as a meditation on the very forces that menace us, that call into question the limits of the lives we construct for ourselves. It is also a dissection of the ways a supposedly normal world sustains itself by defining some other world as abnormal. Cat People is a tragedy about a world's inability to accept, or even to attempt to understand, whatever falls outside its defining frames.

—Dana B. Polan

Also read article about Cat People from Wikipedia

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