Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Cat People

There's something that's fascinating about fiction focusing on sexual matters that's made before talking about them was socially acceptable. The innuendos may have skirted past the censors of the day but perhaps not its audiences. And boy, they can still pack a punch.

Jacques Tourneur's Cat People in particular has this under the guise of a horror noir. The marriage of Irena (Simone Simon) and Oliver (Kent Smith) seems to be strained almost immediately, stemming from the fact it hasn't been consummated. Irena has an almost crippling fear of sexuality and she cites folklore from her home country as the reason. But are Irena's fears warranted?

As Tourneur would do several years later with Out of the Past, the way shadows are used in Cat People play just as much of a role as the story itself. Similarly, in contrast to Jane Greer's first appearance in all white in the later film, Irena has an all-black wardrobe, signifying -- per Hollywood symbolism -- there's more to her than she's letting on...

Being the first collaboration between Tourneur and producer Val Lewton, both had an interest in the psychological elements of storytelling, which is all over the place in Cat People. With the world at war yet again, it was only a matter of years before the rest of Hollywood followed suit. And as various titles over the coming decades showed, they were onto something.

Cat People is a different breed of horror film, no denying that. Rather than outright scares, it prefers having its audience get a creeping feeling of unease like its characters. (Is it any wonder that Lewton inspired elements of Kirk Douglas' character in The Bad and the Beautiful?)

My Rating: *****

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