Cat People ( 1942 )

FERNANDO’s CORNER  –  Posted October 9th, 2015

CAT PEOPLE '42 ( XX )

Brilliant, nothing short of brilliant. I had seen this film before perhaps, but it is the first time I watched it properly: a good print, in peace, concentrated, etc.. “CAT PEOPLE” ( 1942 ) definitely lives up to its fame, because it is one of the very best flicks dealing with the supernatural that I have ever seen. With a masterful mise-en-scene, direction, cinematography, camera work et al, it is RKO Radio at its best. Superb. For this film alone Jacques Tourneur, Val Lewton, Mark Robson and Nicholas Musuraca deserve to be hailed as masters of their craft.

This movie is an ensemble piece in which all the parts fit together perfectly; Simone Simon is absolutely fascinating, enthralling, enticing, appealing as the sexy, mysterious, kittenish ( alluring in a subtle, repressed way ) as the troubled, apparently obsessive-compulsive, helpless and tortured Serbian girl who believes she is the object of a curse. Beholding her, one cannot blame the characters played by Kent Smith and Tom Conway for falling under her spell; I did too. She is perfect for the part; she looks the part with that eerie feline quality she has, button nose and all. I simply fell in love with her. She is not only beautiful to look at, but she commands such attention as the lovely Irena that one is drawn to her helplessly.

CAT PEOPLE '42 ( X )

Kent Smith and Jane Randolph are fine as the on-the-level regular people, as well as Jack Holt as their boss and the always reliable Alan Napier as their colleague, but the guy who really impressed me was Tom Conway. I know he’s George Sanders’ brother and I have seen him in some other roles, but here he shines as the psychiatrist who falls for Irena. I can see the genes that link him to Sanders in his voice, poise and worldly ways, but his persona does not exude all the cynicism Sanders usually does in his roles. Still, Conway’s a dandy and he’s excellent in his part.

Also, it was a pleasure to see the beautiful Theresa Harris play her role as a waitress, detached from the usual racist stereotyping of the time. She definitely gave dignity to the parts she played and seeing her, one is sure that if she had been born in this day and age she would have been BIG in the cinematic business.

I haven’t read much about the background of this film (and I like it that way, because I can intepret it in the way I perceive it, with no pre-conceptions or prejudices). It is really apparent to an adult that what Irena was afraid of was sexual intimacy with her husband (Smith) and not a mere kiss. In spite of the Production Code restrictions, it is very well hinted at by the director.

CAT PEOPLE '42 ( I )

Last but not least, Elizabeth Russell is fascinating in her small role as the “other” cat woman. An absolute winner and a must-see!

[ GHOST SHIP ]   [  ISLE OF THE DEAD ]

[ LEOPARD MAN ] [ CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE ]

(  H O M E  )

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3 thoughts on “Cat People ( 1942 )

  1. Tremendously enjoyed your wonderful review of Cat People. I am always mesmerized by the Val Lewton touch with shadows and suggestiveness. I interpret Cat People as portraying a fear of Eastern Europeans. I liked your exploration of the main psycho-sexual meaning. I am a fan of handsome and stalwart Kent Smith as the “regular guy” caught up in grim situations. I will look for Theresa Harris when I see this film again. Ashamed that I do not recall her offhand. I do value those Noir films in which African-American actors made their mark, however briefly, in a worthy role. Thanks a lot. See you all at MOMA.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there Harriet ~ I know your comment is directed to Fernando, but I’m going to chime in here real quick.

      Val Lewton is a favorite of mine, even moreso after seeing the TCM documentary on the man. He did so much with so little. He made the audience work, use our imagination. I can agree with you about the film being a xenophobic metaphor. Hmmmm something pretty relevant in world events and the U.S.’s current politics now, wouldn’t you say. I think Kent Smith is a fine regular guy. If you know him, you know how he got entangled, to no good end, with Ann Sheridan in “Nora Prentiss” or was a weak-willed architect against idealist Gary Cooper in “The Fountainhead.” He certainly got in a pickle with Irena in “Cat People” didn’t he.

      You write: “I do value those Noir films in which African-American actors made their mark, however briefly, in a worthy role,” which brings to mind Ernest Anderson in Bette Davis’ “In This Our Life” as a young law student. And I hope you forgive my self-indulgence, but I have to give my girl Theresa Harris a big shout out here. Here is a shot of her in her big scene in “Out of the Past.” She was always lovely in all her brief appearances:

      Like

    • Thank you Harriet. I am glad to read that you enjoyed my capsule review. This year has been the year of Val Lewton to me and I have yet many other films to unveil (my Lewton binge was interrupted by other circumstances 😉 and I need to be in the right mood to watch them). Great point that Cat People depicts fear towards Easter Europeans. Theresa Harris is a knockout actress; please see her in “Baby Face” (1933) and “The Flame of New Orleans” (1941) with la Dietrich. Thanks for your positive comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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