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A man befriends a Serbian woman at the zoo, where she seems fascinated by the black panther. They grow close (the couple, not the panther!) and they eventually marry. However, she is frightened to get too close to him physically, because she believes intimacy will change her into a big cat predator (like you do). It seems she comes from an ancient line of Cat People, and to add conviction an older Serbian woman repeatedly warns her with a menacing appearance when she least expects it. Now her husband is spending far too much time with a female colleague. The extreme jealousy triggers a curse and the sounds of a stalking big cat are heard close behind. Stay out of the shadows…
This is the original 1942 version of Cat People; not to be confused with the 1980s remake (does anyone remember David Bowie’s 'Cat People – Putting Out Fire With Gasoline' with Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar?) the film of which was a little weird to say the least. This was the first of a number of horror films produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures. He quickly made a name for himself as The Man in Shadows. In fact, that is very much the strength of this film: very effective use of light and shadow to create atmosphere. The swimming pool in darkness scene has stayed with me for a long time, but when viewed again now very little actually happens. It is what is inferred with water shadows on the walls and good use of sound which makes it rather eerie.
The sound is used to trick the viewer, too, as evidenced by the attacking cat sound made by the bus suddenly pulling up alongside the female work colleague and the air doors hissing open. So, my opinion is that, though the acting performances are generally okay, it is the cinematography that is the real star of the show. The conclusion is wrapped up all very neatly compared with films from subsequent decades which realise everything isn’t simply black and white (except this film!), but it makes its point well without outstaying its welcome.
The movie has undergone a pretty crisp 2K digital transfer, there is a new interview with cinematographer John Bailey (hooray!), an audio commentary dating back to 2005 with film historian Gregory Mank, and an interview with director Jacques Tourneur from 1977. But the biggest draw for this release has to be the 2008 feature length documentary, Val Lewton: The Man in Shadows. I just wish that it wasn’t so matter-of-fact in its presentation. You expect to hear some sort of enthusiasm.
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