CAT PEOPLE (1942)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur. The first of producer Val Lewton's initial quartet of horror classics (with "I Walked With A Zombie, " "The Leopard Man, ""The Curse Of The Cat People") and other fantasies, all effective while not at all graphic or gory. Without any special effects, fear is suggested by camera work, mood and atmosphere, editing, lighting, sounds and music. Horror is left up to the audience's imagination rather than depicted. A psychoanalyst and his patient fall in love while he is trying to cure her of her strange notions.
His virgin bride from the Balkans, Irina (Simone Simon, perfect in her acting and her feline face) is affected by Serbian legends of King John, a sword and witches, cat people and Mameluks. Irina believes that she is becoming a killer cat. Indeed, she may be. Made on a tiny budget, the film gets ominous tensions from careful construction that exploits the strange in everyday life. Notable are the scenes in a pet shop where the animals become agitated when Irina comes in; another in a swimming pool;those with a zoo's panther;a bird dying of fright;the discovery of a big cat's victim.
At a restaurant, Irina passes by a Slavic, vaguely cat-like looking woman who simply tells her "Moja sestra" ("My sister"in Serbian) and reconfirms her fears. The music by Roy Webb is well-suited to the story, unpretentious and unrepetitious. It uses at least three themes, one of them the French lullaby "Do, do, l'enfant do." Like a few other films of the period, such as the eerie ghost story "The Uninvited" (1944), "Cat People" is vastly different from the bloody, in-your-face horror movies of later times. A little over an hour long, it is sometimes scheduled with the equally brief "The Curse Of The Cat People."
P.S. Correct grammar was more common in the 40s, as evidenced by "better than whom" -- with an "m". (Edwin Jahiel)
Copyright © Edwin Jahiel
Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel