Here I am in NYC’s Museum of Modern Art ( MoMA ) waiting for the day’s movie, when I saw the giant poster of the subject of my blog today. I asked the kind Security Guard lady to do me a favor and take my picture. I’m being Lewton’d here with posters from Martin Scorsese’s collection. And all for a good cause: a blogathon.
This is the first blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and if you click on the banner below, you will read other contributors’ views on a subject near and dear to my heart in the “They Remade What!” Blogathon.
I hate re-makes.
As a general rule, I really hate them. C’mon. They make me roll my eyes in the air and think: “Doesn’t anybody have an original idea anymore? Do they lack moral fiber? Why see the movie, when I already know the plot? ACK!” Some remakes are slavish – shot for shot – leaving no stone unturned for no stone unturned. ( Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” proves the point that a good exercise does not a box ofice make ). What? “The Maltese Falcon” 1941 is a remake? Well…that doesn’t count.
Then there are re-imaginings. This is what I call remakes that I enjoy. See, if you name something differently it becomes “different.” ( Heh heh! ) And this is what I call “CAT PEOPLE.” A re-imagining.
“I like the dark. It’s friendly.”
Let me formally introduce you to both movies before we jump in the pool. ( That will come later ).
“You can fool everybody. But landy dearie me, you can’t fool a cat.”
I feel they got it right with this 1982 re-imagining because it opens up the story, tells more of the legend and makes it a more sensual visceral experience. And I do think this movie can standalone. But if you know nothing about the original, you won’t know just how expansive the 1982-version is. By the same token, opening wide may not be the best thing compared to the more laser-beamed focused original. Do I seem like I’m all over the map here? Yes. I admit I am. I am because I sort of can’t talk about one movie without referencing the other, and vice versa, even though both movies stand alone. See, “Cat…‘42” is much more linear, subtle and suggestive in laying out its story. We’re in classic noir territory here, folks, with Jacques Tourneur at the helm. Horror, baby. Shadows scare the bejeesus out of us. Shaking branches makes us jump. Footsteps in the dark make us run. And that robe torn to shreds… Whooft!
“I’m drawn to her. There’s a warmth from her that pulls at me. I have to watch her when she’s in the room. I have to touch her when she’s near. But I don’t really know her. In many ways, we’re strangers.”
“Cat…‘42” – An architect falls for and marries a European fashion artist he doesn’t really know very well ( but who’s as cute as a button ) and finds out ( too late ) she won’t sleep with him because she believes she’ll turn into a man-killing leopard. He winds up seeking therapy for her and in a typical 1940’s approach to women’s problems, if she won’t conform, the threat hangs over her head to either get the marriage annulled or be put in an asylum.
Well THAT’S a fine-how-do-you-do!
“Cat…‘82” goes a little broader. There is sex and violence. A zookeeper falls for a European girl he doesn’t really know very well and he finds out ( too late ) she’s scared to sleep with him because she WILL ( though she doesn’t quite believe it yet ) turn into a man-killing leopard if she does. Boundaries are crossed in the most unsavory ways in both versions of “Cat People” when Simon’s psychiatrist ( played by that silky-voiced, upstanding cad Tom Conway ) wants to sleep with her himself. Now there’s a cure! Boundaries are crossed in the 1982 film when Kinski’s brother ( played by Malcolm McDowell with his usual right-underneath-the-surface malevolence and feral-ness ) also wants to sleep with her. I think it’s a cat thing. Both things are certainly and definitely taboo. Whereas in one film, this fear of animal transformation might be a metaphor for fear of sexual intimacy, in the other film it’s just a straight up animalistic. Maybe they are saying sex is animalistic. Hey, it’s the 80’s.
“I’m the only one who can touch you and you’re the only one who can touch me. Don’t you see? We’re safe together because we’re the same.”
Both our hapless heroes John Heard and Kent Smith ( Smith looks very attractive in this movie ) have other women who are interested in them. Nice, safe job pals who would be right for them. So of course the boys go with the unknown quantity of “Irena”. I like the gal pals played by Jane Randolph and Annette O’Toole. They’re very attracted to the hero…and don’t play shrinking violets. I’m lovin’ 1940’s Jane Randolph. She’s an architect; an unapologetic working girl. She looks confident, has a brave aura to her. It was more common to see a woman working by the 80’s. So we have Annette O’Toole; a very American-looking girl, also competent at her job. Both gals were great, though Randolph professes her love for Kent Smith more openly. She actually is not averse to busting up Smith’s marriage.
In the 1982 film, we see it all. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is hinted at. We see the danger and transformation. That’s good and bad. No shadows, no sounds, no suggestion. The movie takes away our imagination. But I ain’t mad at it. I like it. I like the explicitness. The music is hypnotic, ( David Bowie ) its sway gets us in the mood. Both movies have the two iconic scenes this movie is known for: The “Mi Hermana” scene and the pool scene. I wait for them both.
But everything hinges on the woman who is the center of all this. Simone Simon and Nastassja Kinski play Irena. I feel sorry for them. They are desirable but the guys can’t have them, nor can they have the man they’re attracted to. They share the same skewed psychosexual dysfunction. Sexual desire manifests itself by turning both women into cats. Leopards. Black leopards to be exact. Who…Kill. Puts a spin on a girl being “kittenish”. There’s a power to both Simon and Kinski. Simon is just so cute. I don’t mean to reduce her to just that, but it is the first thing we see. ( In Fernando’s Corner here on my blog, he’s quite smitten with her himself…read here…and his whole series on Lewton ). She’s vulnerable. You feel protective. Birds die at her touch, cats hiss as she walks by. She stalks, but it’s off camera. She doesn’t want to be like this. Her tale feels tragic.
IRENA: “I’ve lived in dread of this moment. I never wanted to love you. I’ve stayed away from people. I lived alone. I never wanted this to happen.”
OLIVER: “But you just told me you loved me.”
IRENA: “I do. I do. I fled from the past. From things you could never know. Evil things. Evil.”
She does give in to her jealousy when she thinks her husband’s gal pal is what’s coming between them. ( Hence the pool scene ). When her psychiatrist ( Conway ) tries to make a pass, I was hoping she WOULD tear his throat to shreds. Where Simone is vulnerable, Kinski is a different breed of cat ( Groan! Sorry!! ) She is very sensual. Has much sexual heat. She is given information of her legacy but rejects it and her brother’s advances. She is attracted to John Heard, but also lives in fear of intimacy because she fears her legacy is true.
“Would you love me just as much if we couldn’t sleep together?”
Both gals were saddled with a pretty raw deal; unable to express the full spectrum of human nature. They both hold our attention and I like both movies for different reasons. One movie is about what we see, and the other is about what we don’t see. I recommend both. If you want to read about more re-makes, you have but to click this banner. Thanks for reading mine. And Phyllis…congratulations on your first blogathon! Here’s to many more.
( H O M E )