Cat People from 1942 is a cult classic for many reasons. It has a following from film noir fans, horror fans and fans of well done B-movies. Credit for this can be given to Val Lewton and this production of his very first film. Val Lewton used a bunch of techniques in filming and storytelling that gave him a signature style. R.K.O. gave him a small budget to make some horror films to try to compete with the Universal Monster films. Lewton took the opportunity, but ran with it in a slightly different direction. Lewton had this picture directed by Jacques Tourneur, who he used on his next few projects as well. Tourneur went on to direct his fair share of classic film noir films with his high point being Out of the Past.
This film revolves around Irena Dubrovna played by Simone Simon. She believes she is cursed and will harm any man who falls in love with her. She believes she will turn into a large cat and kill! When she catches the eye of Oliver Reed, played by Kent Smith, she has feelings for him as well. They eventually get married, but things soon start to change as Oliver is not happy in his marriage. Irena goes to a psychiatrist, played by Tom Conway, to help her overcome her fears and save her marriage. To make things worse Oliver and co-worker Alice Moore, played by Jane Randolph, start a relationship. This angers Irena and she starts to stock both of them. Does Irena really turn into a large cat or is she just going crazy? Will Alice and Oliver survive either way?
The film noir techniques used in this film are both beautiful and suspenseful. I particularly liked the swimming pool scene and the scene in the drawing-room also works well. This film would be the first time for the use of the “Lewton bus,” I will not explain that here as it may give away to much of the film, if not in story but feel. This film became a huge hit for R.K.O. and ran in theaters for a long time. In fact some critics wrote bad reviews for this, but because it was in theaters so long, some critics re-watched it and retracted some of those bad reviews. It also caused the next two Lewton films to be put on the shelf until Cat People’s theatrical run was over. Lewton’s filming style and way of making film was a big influence on film noir to come and film in general.
Well worth checking out to see how great a cheap B-movie can be done. This is a fun little film with some great performances and a twist at the end which still works today.