Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Cat People (1942)

The latest entry in Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011 didn’t have as many cats as the title suggests!

Written By: DeWitt Bodeen
Directed By: Jacques Tourneur

There is a lot of subtlety at work in Jacque Tourneur’s Cat People. Unfortunately I found it to be a film too subtle for its own good. Cat People hints at a lot of things, but it never truly explores these things. At least, the exploration was not there for me, even if it was present for a lot of other people. I understood what Cat People was going for and I appreciated the heck out of certain elements of the film. However, on the whole I came away wanting more from a film that clearly had a lot more to say.

Having watched Monsieur Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon for last year’s Splatter Time Fun Fest I was looking forward to further exploring his work. Cat People is a very different work than Night Of The Demon, although there were times when I could see the hands of Monsieur Tourneur at work. Most notably there was a definite connection between the way the demon is seen in the shadows of Night Of The Demon and the way the “cats” in Cat People never leave the shadows. There are also similarities in the way that the visual artistry hints at the themes Cat People wants to explore. This is also the area where the differences are most evident, in Night Of The Demon I thought Monsieur Tourneur spelled everything out too much. In Cat People he is so subtle with every theme that it is like a light whisper in your ear.

On the one hand I can appreciate that approach, most likely more a product of producer Val Lewton than of the director, but on the other hand I found that it failed to fully engage me as a viewer. It’s not just the subtle approach of the filmmaking, but the subtle approach of the acting. Specifically I had a heck of a time buying into the performance of Simone Simon as Irena. Her performance was a case of seeing the strings behind the scenes so to speak. In a movie already aiming for subtlety her performance was so restrained and held back that I could see the director pulling the strings as far as her acting choices were concerned. There are moments, such as when she first stalks Oliver and Alice, that her performance is wonderfully longing. However, more often than not she appeared to be being pushed along, her performance so held back that there was no doubt someone behind the scenes was visibly pulling the strings.

Cat People is at its best when Monsieur Tourneur is using his visual skills as a director to play with shadow and darkness. The pool scene where Irena corners Alice was visually captivating. A scene like that one took what the film was hinting at and added true horror to the ideas of sexuality and loneliness. Those visual moments were not enough, although I suppose their scarcity made them that much more appealing when they did happen to come around.

With Cat People Monsieur Tourneur, and again Mr. Lewton, have crafted a good picture with a lot of hinted at promise. The film never completely follows though on what it hints at, making it a film of unexplored ideas and isolated moments. The fact that even with those problems Cat People is a good picture is a testament to the quality of the material and the people behind the production. Still, there could have been a lot more in Cat People, and it’s not that I was looking for more, but more was right there and for whatever reason Cat People shied away from really unleashing its claws.




9 responses to “Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: Cat People (1942)

  1. Mark Middlemas

    What did you think of Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon?

  2. That’s the American version of Night of the Demon, correct? I really liked Night of the Demon, but I’ve never seen the American edited version.

  3. Mark Middlemas

    Sorry. It was a dumb joke. I love Night/Curse of the Demon. I’ve been gearing up to watch Val Lewton productions at some point.

  4. I watched Curse of the Cat People as well, it was at about the same level as Cat People, I only slightly preferred it. Those two films are, I believe, my only real exposure to Lewton.

  5. You may have not loved Cat People nowhere near as much as I do (one of my favourite films), but so glad to see it reviewed on the blogsphere!

    I have to disagree with what you said about Simone Simon, I thought she was wonderful, but I can definitely see your point!

  6. I know a lot of people who absolutely love Cat People, Simone Simon’s performance being one of the key reasons. There’s something to her performance, even if I wasn’t able to find as much there as others were.

  7. Pingback: Splatter Time Fun Fest 2011: The 2nd Annual Bloody Machete Awards | Bill's Movie Emporium

  8. I guess I could see it alluding to too much, but I like the fact it’s more subtle and subdued instead of sketching things out fully. I’ve heard others have similar issues as well.

  9. I wasn’t really looking for things to be fully sketched out, a thin outline would have been more to my liking. I love subtle films and I did like the subtlety of Cat People, but there were a few areas where I wanted the film to be a tad more than subtle.

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