CAT PEOPLE – The Dungeon Review!

Thanks to 366 Weird Movies who suggested I check out the films of producer Val Lewton. I picked up a Lewton double feature with ‘The Cat People’ and ‘The Curse of The Cat People’. I can’t wait to check out more films from this troubled but fascinating man who had a fear of cats. There will be more on Mr. Lewton with my review of ‘The Curse Of The Cat People’. It’s amazing what you can learn when you rewatch a film with commentary!

Irena, new to the city and friendless, meets Oliver Reed who she invites over for tea. She tells Oliver the story behind her strange statue of a man on a horse brandishing a sword impaling a cat. She is haunted by a myth from her small Serbian village that suggests her people are witches and that strong emotions could change them into panthers. Living in the shadow of this curse she believes her passion for Oliver will turn her into one of the cat people. Dismissing her fears, Oliver will have none of it, and so the two get married. But her fears continue and their marriage is troubled, complicated further by a female co-worker who happens to be in love with Oliver.

Oliver is instantly mesmerized by Irena’s beauty, but barely gets a chance to know her before they are married. Her strange story didn’t seem to faze him, but then again, he is portrayed as a man who is naive in the ways of love and women. It doesn’t take long for the marriage to break down. Complaining that everything has always been just honky-dorey for him, he has no idea how to deal with being unhappy. There were a few “poor Oliver” scenes where he is left on the wrong side of closed doors in his unconsummated marriage. Normally I would be put off by pairing up a fairly wishy-washy character with one as intriguing as Irena. But it actually works quite well here. Helping to beef things up is Alice, Oliver’s smart and confident female co-worker and friend. Alice admits to Oliver that she is in love with him. She actually seems genuine in her intentions and wants the best for Oliver. During a scene where the two are having coffee at their favourite haunt, she sends Oliver home to his new wife to work things out, referring to herself as “The new type of other woman”. This makes for a fascinating dynamic. In the end, it is strong emotion, jealously in fact, that brings out the cat woman in Irena.

Simone Simon is excellent as Irena. She is beautiful and sultry, yet sweet and almost child-like. It is easy to understand how Oliver falls instantly in love with her. Kent Smith brings a naive charm to the character of Oliver and Jane Randolph totally sells it as the intelligent and confident Alice. Also along for the ride is Tom Conway, who plays psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd who attempts to treat Irena. He does a nice job playing it mildy quirky and just a bit sleazy. As the film moves along we learn the doctor’s intentions may be less than admirable.

The love triangle can be a dangerous thing, as Alice finds out in two of the film’s most suspenseful moments. The scene where she is walking home alone at night is spectacular. Also impressive is her scene in the swimming pool. It is amazing what can be achieved with the power of suggestion. You never actually see what is stalking Alice and this fear of the unseen really adds to the intensity. In fact, there are two scenes where you do get a glimpse of a cat that I felt were considerably less effective.

The atmosphere is pure perfection and I loved the use of all the cat paraphernalia. The sketch Irena tosses on the ground in the zoo when her and Oliver first meet makes for some excellent foreboding. It also felt appropriate that she sports a long fur coat for most of the film. I adored each and every scene where she visits the panther cage. Particularly poignant is the scene where she cannot resist bringing kitty a treat. There are countless subtle little scenes that are extremely effective, too many to mention. The use of shadow throughout the entire film is a visual treat. It is what you don’t see that makes ‘Cat People’ a truly amazing film. The mood is tight throughout. ‘Cat People’ is a truly outstanding film. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, and Jack Holt

9 Responses to “CAT PEOPLE – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. Wow, you are on a terrific run here. I’d say this is in my top ten horror films. I know it’s not exactly ‘scary’ but all the elements come together and I really truly feel for Irena. Simone Simon has terrific screen presence.

    Jane Randolph, who played the vying love interest, Alice, died over the summer. I did a retrospective on the chase scene then:

    http://cinematropolis.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/remembering-jane-randolph-and-the-cat-people/

    • Great article Bartleby! I love the pics you found too!

      I re-watched both ‘Cat People’ and ‘Curse of The Cat People’ with the commentary on and learned all sorts of nifty facts about Lewton and the stars of the film. Also Simone Simon has some commentary on both and was surprisingly sharp. I believe she was in her 90’s when she contributed to the commentary. Apparently Irena and Alice’s on screen rivalry continued off screen as well. Simon and Randolph didn’t get along and Simon was particularly “catty” when it came to her co-star. Simon had a bit of bitterness about ‘Curse’ too. I’m dying to check out some of Lewton’s other films! I have The Body Snatcher and The Seventh Victim in the quene!

  2. Honestly, they are all well worth watching but the absolute best (aside from these 2) are Body Snatcher, The Seventh Victim and I Walked With a Zombie. Ghost Ship, Leopard Man, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam are also worthy little movies. If you ever get a chance to pick up the box set, go for it!

  3. Glad you liked it too, I love CAT PEOPLE! Very influential in horror. I believe the screeching bus was the first use of the “jump scare.” And as you point out, the swimming pool scene is one of the all-time great suspense scenes.

  4. […] my first viewing of A Lewton produced horror film happened just this past December! The film was Cat People, which came packaged together with Curse Of The Cat People. A most impressive duo, particularly Cat […]

  5. […] my first viewing of A Lewton produced horror film happened just this past December! The film was Cat People, which came packaged together with Curse Of The Cat People. A most impressive duo, particularly Cat […]

  6. […] and Niall MacGinnis. A highly entertaining creature feature from the director of the Brilliant Cat People and I Walked with a […]

  7. Victor De Leon Says:

    So glad you liked this movie! Great review! Cat People is one of my favorite thrillers. I am a big fan of his work. Martin Scorcese narrated a great Doc about the films of Lewton too. I have yet to hear the commentaries on Cat People. I hope to one day. You touched upon the best things about the movie too. I hope you enjoy The Body Snatcher and The 7th Victim as much. Once again, good going! – Vic

    • goregirl Says:

      I’ve seen and reveiwed The Body Snatcher since which is my favourite Lewton yet!! I really loved it! Karloff is utterly perfect. I still have not seen the 7th victim though…look forward to checking it out soon!

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