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Old 06-09-2009, 03:52 PM
Jacques Tourneur's Cat People

Cat People (1942)

Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People" probably scared the socks off people back in 1942 with its strange mood, atmosphere, and suggestive material. Looking at it today though, it seems very tame, with material that probably wouldn't even scare a six year old. I would like to judge it as though I were watching it back in 1942, but I have a feeling that I would still be pointing out the same problems that I'm about to.

One day at the zoo, Irena (Simone Simon) meets Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), an architect. They immediately hit it off as she invites him into her apartment. She tells him a wild story of how she descends from a group of villagers who were supposedly evil witches and had the ability to change into large cats. Oliver doesn't really believe it, and they are soon married. However, their marriage feels very distant; they don't even kiss because Irena has the fear that her emotions will turn her into a large cat. Oliver begins spending more time with his co-worker, Alice (Jane Randolph), whom Irena begins to get jealous off. Oliver and Alice even suggest that Irena see a doctor, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway), to help alleviate her fears, but it may already be too late.

The main problem this film had was its pacing. We know early on that Irena is one of the "cat people," but we have to wait around while the other characters get small clues that help them figure out that Irena was telling the truth in her story. Because of this, the story moves forward at an incredibly slow pace as we wait for the rest of the characters to catch up to where the audience already is.

Also because of this pacing, the story has a feeling as though it is stuck in place for almost the entire movie, only starting to develop further in the last few minutes of the film, but by then, it's already too late. It's an amazing task when someone can take a brief 73-minute runtime and make it feel as though it has been stretched out to two hours.

The film doesn't really build up any suspense either. The "suggestive" type of suspense may have worked really well in 1942, but not so much nowadays. There are a few brief moments where real suspense starts to build up, but is so quickly defused that it leaves us wondering if there was any suspense there in the first place.

These moments come in scenes like when Alice is walking home alone one night after dinner with Oliver. She walks along a street lit only by street lamps and can hear footsteps somewhere behind her, but when she turns around, she can't see anything. This could have gone on, but the scene is cut short when a bus suddenly arrives from the other direction.

Another instance is when Oliver and Alice are trapped in a room with Irena (in cat form), leaving the scene open for lots of suspense to be inserted, but the scene is quickly ended when Oliver holds up two sticks of wood (which happen to look like a cross), utters a few words, and then runs with Alice to the exit.

The final scene is at least well-done. We know what has to happen to fix this situation and it does. It returns to something the doctor said earlier about everyone having an urge to release evil on the world, which is exactly what Irena attempts to do. Perhaps this is a response to her never being able to truly love Oliver because of what she may do to him or perhaps she does it because she realizes that she is ultimately alone.

I realize that they were working with a small budget when making this film, which is what I suppose led most of the attempts at suspense to be suggestive. However, suspense doesn't just come from what you see (or don't see); if the story had been written a little better instead of being stalled for most of the film, there could have been a lot more suspense, leading to a much more engaging film.

There are many people out there who still like this movie for the atmosphere it creates while telling its story. It was even honored by being added to the National Film Registry in 1993. Producer Val Lewton apparently financed a whole slew of films like this including "I Walked with a Zombie," "The Leopard Man," and even a sequel to "Cat People" called "The Curse of the Cat People." "Cat People" is generally said to be the best of these, which seems to say a lot about the others, but who knows, maybe not. 2/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 06-09-2009 at 09:53 PM..
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