Cat People (1942): Another sound – the panther – it screams like a woman

Cat People (1942)

“Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness.”
– Opening Credits

The first of a string of B horror classics from RKO, this haunting tale of a cat-woman is an expressionist tour-de-force. Directed by Frenchman Jacques Tourneur, filmed by the Italian cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, and produced by Russian-born Val Lewton, from a screenplay by DeWitt Bodee. Later in 1947 Tourneur and Musuraca teamed again to make Out of the Past.

Tourneur uses stark lighting and moody night shots to suggest horror and foreboding in scenes that are rendered completely only in the viewers’ imaginations.

Simone Simon portrays the woman doomed from birth with understated intensity, and her engaging performance gives the erstwhile demon a fragile humanity.

This highlights another connection to film noir. The cat woman is not just a captive of her accursed fate, but imprisoned by her very sexuality, which can be expressed only by unleashing her demonic self.

From the closing credits:

But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My world, both parts, and both parts must die.

Holy Sonnets, V. – John Donne.

A visual feast and a multi-layered literate tale of darkness.

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2 thoughts on “Cat People (1942): Another sound – the panther – it screams like a woman”

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