Cat People

Screening on Film
Directed by Jacques Tourneur.
With Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph.
US, 1942, 35mm, black & white, 74 min.
Print source: Library of Congress

An auspicious debut by any measure, Cat People provided a much-needed hit for RKO and Lewton’s ticket to creative freedom. The picture seems remarkable today not only for its justly famous horror set-pieces but also for its intimate portrait of a woman’s irreconcilable fear of her own deepest instincts. Simone Simon stars as a Serbian-born fashion artist shadowed by an old-world curse transforming women into panthers at the first sign of desire. Kent Smith plays her woefully unprepared suitor, the romantic non-entity of a thousand 1940s movies (“I can’t understand her because I’ve never been unhappy), Jane Randolph his co-worker and obvious match, and Tom Conway, in the first of many roles for Lewton, a lecherous psychoanalyst. The plot unfolds in zoos, swimming pools, offices, apartments – everyday spaces imbued with dark recesses and uncanny detail, “interiors” in the fullest sense.

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The Glitter of Putrescence. Val Lewton at RKO

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