My Classic Movie Pick: 1942’s Cat People

It’s the month of October which means stores are chock a block full of decorations and candy for the upcoming Halloween celebration on October 31st.  This month also causes many classic film fans to remember great classic movies from the horror and/or sci fi genres.  I decided to pick a classic film which is eerie and haunting, and fitting for this time of the year, 1942’s Cat People.


If you’ve only seen the later remake, the 1982 version, you really need to see the original film.  It’s  a good film, tight plot, the scares aren’t in the open but hidden in the shadows which make them even scarier as it allows the viewer’s imagination to add to the terror hinted at on the screen.

The film is about Serbian immigrant to the U.S., Irena Dubrovna.  She’s a talented fashion designer, living in NYC, and for fun likes to sketch the animals at the Central Park Zoo.  One day while she’s sketching, she  meets engineer Oliver Reed.  There’s an instant attraction and before long, the two are engaged, much to the disappointment of Oliver’s co-worker, Alice.

Oliver meets Irena for the first time

Oliver meets Irena for the first time

Telling Oliver about the statue that shows King John killing a cat

Telling Oliver about the statue that shows King John killing a cat

At a local restaurant where Oliver’s friends have gathered to celebrate his marriage to Irena, a strange woman, with a cat-like look about the eyes, stops at Irena’s table and utters something to her in Serbian.  As the woman slinks away, Irena shudders and asks for Oliver to take her home.  Once home, Irena explains to Oliver her great fear, that the woman at the restaurant raised in her.  She called Irena “sister” insinuating that Irena is under the curse of the Cat People.  From an earlier moment in the film, Irena tells Oliver how King John of Serbia drove the witches out which resulted in a curse: that when any of the female descendants of these witches feels passion, they will turn into a deadly panther and go on a killing spree!  Oliver doesn’t believe in this curse, but Irena does and begs him to be patient with her as she’s not ready to be a wife to him just yet.

The strange woman who speaks to Irena in Serbian at the restaurant

The strange woman who speaks to Irena in Serbian at the restaurant

Oliver confides his marriage woes to Alice, and also gets Irena to agree to begin seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Judd.  As Alice draws closer to Oliver, she will be put into danger.  As Dr. Judd draws closer to Irena, he will be put into danger.   Danger and mystery swirl around all of the characters in this film.

Cat People was the creative project of producer Val Lewton.  A former journalist, writer and story editor for Selznick Studios, Lewton wanted to make his own movies and RKO gave him that chance, hiring him to  make horror films on low-budgets.   Lewton hired Jacques Tourneur to direct and the outstanding cinematography was by Nicholas Musuraca.  The film was shot in about a month, for $140,000, which was just under the budget RKO gave Lewton.  The film was a huge hit for RKO, bringing in $4,ooo,ooo.

French actress Simone Simon, who’s career in Hollywood began in 1936 and was floundering, had gone back to France to continue acting there, when WWII broke out. Simon returned to Hollywood and Cat People, was her second successful American film.  She is great as Irena: mysterious, pensive, and showing a streak of jealousy when it comes to her husband, Oliver, and Alice. Kent Smith is fine as the strong, silent-type, very logical engineer, Oliver.   Jane Randolph as Alice is also very good, a very logical thinking woman, who knows she shouldn’t be falling in love with her married co-worker, but she just can’t help it, especially when he confides in her about his marital problems.  Tom Conway is also very good as the elite, intellectual Dr. Judd, who wants to help Irena, but his one method isn’t at all wise.

Some famous scenes to expect: when Oliver takes Irena to a local pet shop to buy her a bird, all of the animals behave strangely when Irena enters the shop, the fellow Serbian woman(Elizabeth Russell)who startles Ireana at the restaurant, Alice walking home alone in the dark and convinced she is being followed by some creature, bloody animal prints that evolve into human footprints, Oliver and Alice threatened by some creature late at night at their office, Alice at her apartment’s basement indoor pool hearing growls and seeing what may be a large cat ready to pounce on her, Dr. Judd’s attempt to kiss Irena.  Lots of shadows, flickers of firelight, all of these images add to the eerie feelings this movie evokes.

Something sinister is following Oliver and Alice at the office

Something sinister is following Oliver and Alice at the office

Was that a growl? At my apartment's indoor pool?

Was that a growl? At my apartment’s indoor pool?

Um, Dr. Judd, kissing Irena isn't a good idea!

Um, Dr. Judd, kissing Irena isn’t a good idea!

Turner Classic will be airing Cat People on Friday, October 30th, at 8:00 pm Eastern time/7:00 pm Central time.  Don’t miss it!!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Nicely done. Perfect Halloween viewing and the visual style created by Lewton, Tourneur and Musuraca is so effective. A bona fide classic.


  2. This looks fantastic! What an intriguing and creepy story. Thanks for the heads up re: when it’s on TCM.


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