Friday, February 17, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE CAT PEOPLE (1942)

"I thought you might like to come up and see my psychiatric
"You can fool everybody, but Landie-Dearie Me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know what's not right."

1) We are once again in the realm of Movies That Could Not Be Remade Today. It's everything most modern horror film aren't: subtle, restrained, logical and plotted in a way that may seem alien to modern audiences but makes total sense in the context of the film.

2) And one of the beautiful elements of this film is, much like the previously discussed Rosemary's Baby, this movie can be interpreted either way. No matter whether you accept Irena's story as the truth or a delusion, the film still works.

3) This film simply would not work without Simone Simon's performance as Irena. The script by DeWitt Bodeen does take the time to establish Irena's 'baseline' personality before her weirdness creeps into Kent Smith's Oliver's life, but it's Simon who makes her come to life and makes Irena into a charming and fun person to watch. And since we are charmed by her in the first twenty minutes, we're already invested in her when her erratic behavior begins.

4) You know something else that makes it impossible for this film to be remade right now? No one is in the wrong here. Even Jane Randolph's Alice, who professes her love for Oliver, does not try to break up his marriage and tries to be supportive of it until it's obvious that the marriage is doomed to failure. This makes her stalking all the more scary because the audience knows she's innocent.

"I become a slavering panther, and got a
jackal head.  I relate, I relate..."
5) ...although the way Oliver gives up on the marriage just as Irena makes a breakthrough, and Dr. Judd decides to--what? Rape her?--in the climax both seem out of character for the film. It's the only sour notes in an otherwise great script.

6) God, I love some of the ways Jacques Tournuer shoots the set pieces here. The way he isolates Irena's face in a pool of light when she's under hypnosis, or the way he shoots the pool scene to take full advantage of the water reflections on the wall to disguise whether this is Irena, an escaped panther, or Alice's overactive imagination is just masterful. I'm not sure if this is Tournuer, cinematographer Nicholas Musurasca, or a combination of both, but whoever is responsible deserve a round of applause.

7) And speaking of Alice...not only is Jane Randolph gorgeous (the pool scene manages to be sexy and scary without a loss of subtlety), but she's a good enough actress that I thoroughly believe she would put her own happiness aside to help Oliver with his marriage.

Here's a case where if you get out of the get
out of your life as well....
8) I don't know who trained that panther, but there's that one moment where Irena steals the keys to the panther's cage and the animal looks up from its meal in a way that makes it look like it understands what's going on...and I love that moment!

9) Tom Conway's Dr. Judd is really, really cool--even when he does his abrupt heel turn, he's funny and smart and borderline manipulative all at the same time.

10) So strong is this story, so strong is the acting, that the only special effect this film seems to need is a little bit of animation and some double-exposure to represent Irena's dream of King John coming after her.

Overall...a great, subtle and wonderfully shot horror film that has the courage to rely on writing, acting and atmosphere to get its scares across.

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