FERNANDO’s CORNER – Posted October 9th, 2015
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.
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.
Last but not least, Elizabeth Russell is fascinating in her small role as the “other” cat woman. An absolute winner and a must-see!
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