Cat People (1942)

73-74 mins | Drama | 25 December 1942

Director:

Jacques Tourneur

Writer:

DeWitt Bodeen

Producer:

Val Lewton

Cinematographer:

Nicholas Musuraca

Editor:

Mark Robson

Production Designers:

Albert D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller

Production Company:

RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The film opens with the following written quotation from The Anatomy of Atavism a book created for the film purportedly written by one of the characters, Dr. Louis Judd: "Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depression in the world consciousness." It closes with the following sonnet from John Donne: "But black sin hath betrayed to endless night. Holy world, both parts and both parts must die." This was the first production of Val Lewton, a former editorial assistant and West Coast story editor for David O. Selznick. Lewton was hired by RKO to form a unit that would produce low-budget horror films. According to an interview with screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, reproduced in a modern source, the studio allotted a budget of $150,000 per film and dictated the titles to Lewton. Lewton created a production team that at various times included director Jacques Tourneur (who directed Lewton's first three films), editor Mark Robson (who went on to direct five other Lewton films), screenwriter Bodeen and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. Under Lewton's patronage, Robert Wise directed his first film, Curse of the Cat People (see below). From 1942-1946 Lewton produced eleven films for RKO, ending with the film Bedlam (see above).
       Cat People exhibited what would become known as Lewton's distinctive style of horror. Lewton used low key lighting to create shadows that obscured the horrific events and intensified psychological horror. Var described Lewton's style as "developments of surprises confined to psychological and mental reactions, rather than the transformation to grotesque and ... More Less

The film opens with the following written quotation from The Anatomy of Atavism a book created for the film purportedly written by one of the characters, Dr. Louis Judd: "Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depression in the world consciousness." It closes with the following sonnet from John Donne: "But black sin hath betrayed to endless night. Holy world, both parts and both parts must die." This was the first production of Val Lewton, a former editorial assistant and West Coast story editor for David O. Selznick. Lewton was hired by RKO to form a unit that would produce low-budget horror films. According to an interview with screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, reproduced in a modern source, the studio allotted a budget of $150,000 per film and dictated the titles to Lewton. Lewton created a production team that at various times included director Jacques Tourneur (who directed Lewton's first three films), editor Mark Robson (who went on to direct five other Lewton films), screenwriter Bodeen and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. Under Lewton's patronage, Robert Wise directed his first film, Curse of the Cat People (see below). From 1942-1946 Lewton produced eleven films for RKO, ending with the film Bedlam (see above).
       Cat People exhibited what would become known as Lewton's distinctive style of horror. Lewton used low key lighting to create shadows that obscured the horrific events and intensified psychological horror. Var described Lewton's style as "developments of surprises confined to psychological and mental reactions, rather than the transformation to grotesque and marauding characters" (i.e. the monsters of previous horror genres). According to a modern source, Lou Ostrow, Lewton's supervisor at RKO, was so dissatisfied with Lewton's style on this picture that after watching the rushes from the first four days of shooting, he decided to replace Jacques Tourneur as director. Lewton then appealed to studio head Charles Koerner, who reinstated Tourneur. Later, when Ostrow mandated that the panther must appear in the drafting room sequence, Lewton thwarted Ostrow's attempt to make the horror more explicit by instructing Tourneur to shoot the scene with low key lighting, thus throwing the beast into shadows.
       HR news items yield the following information about this production: A Jul 1942 item places Carl Brisson in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. In Aug 1942, two units were shooting around the clock to speed completion of the film. During the night, one unit would film the animals for the Central Park sequence, while during the day, the other unit would be working with the actors. The film was such a hit at the box office that it was held over, thus pushing back the releases of the next two Lewton films, I Walked With a Zombie and Leopard Man (see entries below, according to a 18 Mar 1943 news item. The film's success led RKO to reunite Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Simone Simon with screenwriter Bodeen for the 1944 film Curse of the Cat People (See Entry). In 1982, director Paul Schrader made another version of the story, also titled Cat People , starring Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Nov 1942.
---
Daily Variety
13 Nov 42
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Nov 42
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 43
p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Nov 42
p. 1005.
New York Times
7 Dec 42
p. 22.
Variety
18 Nov 42
p. 8.
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 December 1942
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 6 December 1942
Production Date:
28 July--21 August 1942
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 January 1943
Copyright Number:
LP11814
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
73-74
Length(in feet):
6,534
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8693
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While sketching a panther at the zoo one day, fashion illustrator Irene Dubrovna meets Oliver Reed, a maritime engineer, and invites him to her apartment. There, she tells Oliver that she feels strangely calmed by the cries of the lions in the zoo and relates the legend of King John of Serbia, who banished the witches from her home village long ago. Oliver, enchanted by the exotic Irene, buys her a kitten as a gift. When the kitten shrinks in fear from Irene, however, Oliver and Irene return it to the pet shop, where Irene's presence drives the caged animals mad. Later, when Oliver tells Irene that he loves her, she voices her apprehension that feelings of love and passion will unleash a beast within her. Oliver dismisses her fears as fairy tales and convinces her to marry him. When, at their wedding celebration, she is greeted as "sister" by a strange, cat-like woman, Irene begs Oliver for patience in consummating their marriage. One month later, Irene laments her feelings of aberrance and Oliver insists that she seek help from Dr. Louis Judd, a psychiatrist. Under Judd's hypnotic spell, Irene tells of the cat women in her Serbian village, whose passion turns them into bloodthirsty panthers. After her session with Judd, Irene returns home, where she finds Oliver visiting with Alice Moore, a woman who works in his office. When she learns that Oliver has confided her fears to Alice, Irene feels betrayed and later that night, unable to sleep, she paces in front of the panther's cage at the zoo. Upon discovering that Irene has not been ... +


While sketching a panther at the zoo one day, fashion illustrator Irene Dubrovna meets Oliver Reed, a maritime engineer, and invites him to her apartment. There, she tells Oliver that she feels strangely calmed by the cries of the lions in the zoo and relates the legend of King John of Serbia, who banished the witches from her home village long ago. Oliver, enchanted by the exotic Irene, buys her a kitten as a gift. When the kitten shrinks in fear from Irene, however, Oliver and Irene return it to the pet shop, where Irene's presence drives the caged animals mad. Later, when Oliver tells Irene that he loves her, she voices her apprehension that feelings of love and passion will unleash a beast within her. Oliver dismisses her fears as fairy tales and convinces her to marry him. When, at their wedding celebration, she is greeted as "sister" by a strange, cat-like woman, Irene begs Oliver for patience in consummating their marriage. One month later, Irene laments her feelings of aberrance and Oliver insists that she seek help from Dr. Louis Judd, a psychiatrist. Under Judd's hypnotic spell, Irene tells of the cat women in her Serbian village, whose passion turns them into bloodthirsty panthers. After her session with Judd, Irene returns home, where she finds Oliver visiting with Alice Moore, a woman who works in his office. When she learns that Oliver has confided her fears to Alice, Irene feels betrayed and later that night, unable to sleep, she paces in front of the panther's cage at the zoo. Upon discovering that Irene has not been keeping her appointments with Judd, Oliver accuses her of not wanting to be helped and warns her that they are drifting apart. After Oliver's accusations arouse jealousy in Irene, he angrily storms out of the house, Irene then calls the office and when Alice answers, Irene decides to go there. At a restaurant around the corner from the office building, Irene sees Oliver seated with Alice. After Alice leaves the restaurant and begins to walk home alone, she senses that she is being followed. Upon hearing a low growl and a rustling of the trees, Alice boards a bus, and later, at the zoo, several sheep are found slain. Leading away from their dead bodies are the paw marks of a large cat, which gradually change into human footprints. Disheveled and sobbing, Irene returns home and dreams that Judd is King John. The next day, she visits the zoo and steals the key to the panther's cage. Later, Irene, Alice and Oliver attend an exhibit of ship models and Irene becomes separated from the others. After leaving the exhibit and returning to her apartment house, Alice decides go swimming in the basement pool. Irene follows her home, and as Alice enters the shadowy basement, she hears a low growl and sees the shadow of a cat. Jumping into the water, Alice calls for help and Irene turns on the lights, claiming to be looking for Oliver. After Irene leaves, Alice picks up her robe and discovers that it has been ripped to shreds. When Alice tells Judd her suspicions that jealousy has transformed Irene into a cat, he discounts her accusations until she shows him the robe. Soon after the pool incident, Oliver informs Irene that he has fallen in love with Alice and she orders him out of the house. Later that night, Judd, Alice and Oliver confer and decide to commit Irene, but when she fails to show up for their meeting, Alice and Oliver return to their office while Judd slips back into the apartment. At the office, Alice and Oliver are menaced by a prowling panther, but Oliver vanquishes the beast with a T-bar in the shape of a cross. Irene then returns to her apartment, where she is greeted by Judd. To prove that Irene's fears are not founded in reality, Judd kisses her and then watches in horror as she changes into a cat and attacks him. Returning to the apartment, Oliver and Alice hear Judd's screams and run up the stairs, passing Irene, who is hiding in the shadows. Wounded by Judd's walking stick, Irene is drawn to the zoo's panther cage and unlocks it with her key. After the beast lunges at her, it runs into the street and is hit by a car. Alice and Oliver then run to the zoo, where they find Irene's dead body lying next to the open cage. +

GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
Psychological


Subject

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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