Re-Watching the Classics: Cat People

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.

Review: Two O’Clock Courage

Two O’Clock Courage is an early film noir from 1945 that isn’t as well-known as other films from the era, and probably deservedly so.  So why should you watch this short noir? Two reasons I think film noir junkies should search this one out is:

  1. This is an early film of future directing great Anthony Mann
  2. This is the first credited role of femme fatale great Jane Greer, under the name Bettejane Greer here.

Two O’Clock Courage starts out with our hero, played by Tom Conway, on the side of a street with blood trickling from his head. He stumbles out into the street and almost gets hit by a taxi. The taxi driver is played by Ann Rutherford and decides to help our hero. Conway has amnesia and Rutherford wants to take him to the hospital. When it comes over the radio that a murder has been committed and the description of the main suspect happens to be Conway. Soon the two travel through town trying to solve who Conway real is and if he is innocent of the murder.

This film is very short and has a fair plot, probably pretty original for a film in 1945 and one of the first films noir to use the amnesia device, a device that would be used often in the following years. This film uses humor to great effect as well, it is not over the top and flows nicely with the dark story. The chemistry between Rutherford and Conway is very good with Rutherford being the source of most of the comedic moments. She really did well as with quick one liners throughout the film and you can see why Conway is attracted to her.

You can also see Anthony Mann does very well with an obvious small budget and B movie actors. It is interesting to watch this and see glimpses of a director who would go on to make some great films. We also see one of film noir fans favorite actresses, Jane Greer, in only her second film and her first credited role. It is a small part, but you can already see the femme fatale roots that would launch her into legendary statues only two years later in Out of the Past.

Is this film a forgotten gem somehow missed by film noir fans? Probably not. I did like the way it balanced comedy and the dark noir story line very well. This is a decent film and will entertain you for the little over the hour you are watching it. If you are a huge Greer or Mann fan, it is worth seeking out for a viewing.