Cat People

Cat People (1942) movie poster

(1942) dir. Jacques Tourneur
viewed: 05/05/07 at the Stanford Theater, Palo Alto, CA

This is the kind of thing that I do not do enough of: take advantage of some cool repertory house showings of double features of films.  And to go to the beautiful Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, CA.  It’s a beautiful and well-kept theater.  I’d only been there once before for a Hitchcock double feature.  It was a similar experience, hopping CalTrain and journeying down the peninsula for a lark.  That was only 10 years or so ago, so it’s not like I do this all the time.  But when I read in the paper that a double feature of Val Lewton produced Cat People films was on, I recognized that it was time to do it again.  And I will re-emphasize how nice the theater is, and it’s totally worth the trip to add on lunch at the Peninsula Creamery, which is just about as awesome as it comes for burgers and milkshakes.

I’ve been a Jacques Tourneur fan since I saw I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Out of the Past (1947) when I was living in England.  Cat People is one of his most famous works, and as several of his films, are noted for the helming of the production by the legendary Val Lewton.  It’s all great stuff, perhaps the best of the B-movies ever produced in Hollywood.  Dark and unusual, full of high Expressionism and amazing shadowplay and cinematography, often pulling its best moments in purely visual sequences.

Based on a “myth” of some Serbian legend of women who turn into panthers when aroused by their lovers (who are then killed) or through jealousy, which also leads to death, the sweet, yet strange Simone Simon plays the foreign gal with the dark secret.  There is much here of repressed sexuality and sexualized danger, both towards her lover/husband and toward her “nemesis”, the ultimate lover that her husband takes and also becomes the stalking victim of the film’s two most notable scenes.

The best of the two is the stalking scene Jane Randolph walks along the isolated street, in and out of light, against a large concrete wall.  Staccato footsteps echo off the cement and the pacing turns on the sound of footsteps as she moves through the lamplight and the darkness.  Though the scene in the swimming pool, where she is stalked against the flickering light of the water reflecting on the ceiling as her screams echo against the low growls of the panther.  It’s dark and creepy but aesthetically beautiful, low art and high art perfectly merged.

That’s the stuff of this film, it’s a low-budget horror film that bears much of that fact, but is ultimately an amazingly executed and clever film that stands much above many of its contemporaries and its followers and imitators.

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