Cat People is a testament to what you can do with a low budget and a great script. This 1942 film is superb at creating psychic and sexual tension far beyond what you would have thought possible in a B movie from the 1940’s.
The beautiful Simone Simon plays the Serbian artist Irena Dubrovna who strangely believes that there is something evil lurking in her which she cannot put her finger on. Of course we know what it is we are watching a movie called Cat People after all. Still the setup and slow build to the moment of truth is very well done: All starting with the explanation of who King John of Serbia was and why he holds a cat on a sword in a statue portrayal of him.
This taut horror / thriller is very well acted, magnificently directed and staged. The work done by Jacques Tourneur in keeping the suspense of the film cannot be underestimated. He fought the studio to prevent the “monster” from being shown on film. The now commonplace theme of loss of virginity (which essentially is a stand in for the change into adolescence) is portrayed in the movie by a simple kiss. The transition from childhood to puberty is emphasized by Irena’s constant humming or playing of See Saw Marjorie Daw – at one point in the movie her husband can’t take the tune anymore and turns off the record player. Suspecting that she is capable of killing if she is kissed Irena and her husband Ollie live a chaste life which inevitably has Ollie turning to his female assistant at work for comfort – only hinted at in the movie but you’d have to be blind not to see it. The story is a slow and steady progression to the inevitable “happy ending”.
If you haven’t seen this movie you really should and if you have seen it, it is probably time to remind yourself how good film making can be when it is all about the script and the talent of the director.