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Cat People (1942 film)

Cat People (1942) on IMDb

She knew strange, fierce pleasures that no other woman could ever feel!

Cat People is a 1942 American horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced for RKO by Val Lewton. The film tells the story of Irena Dubrovna, a newly-married Serbian fashion illustrator obsessed with the idea that she is descended from an ancient tribe of Cat People who metamorphose into panthers when aroused. When her husband begins to show interest in one of his coworkers, Irena begins to stalk her. The film stars Simone Simon as Irena, and features Kent SmithTom Conway and Jane Randolph in supporting roles.

Production began in 1942, with Lewton being placed in charge of developing RKO’s low-budget horror films. He brought together a team of filmmakers that he had worked with in the past, including Tourneur, editor Mark Robson and screenwriter DeWitt BodeenCat People was the first film upon which the team worked. They were given the title by an RKO executive, who instructed them to develop a film from it. After researching various horror films and cat-related literature, Bodeen and Lewton developed the script with Lewton doing extensive uncredited work on the story. The film was shot at RKO’s studios reusing sets from previous films such as The Magnificent Ambersons. During editing, Robson developed a technique later called The Lewton Bus, a jump scare that Lewton used in his subsequent films.

Cat People had its premiere at the Rialto Theatre in Manhattan on December 5, 1942 before having a wider release on December 25, 1942. Initial critical reviews ranged from negative to mildly enthusiastic. The film did well in the box office, being one of RKO’s biggest hits of the season. Several horror films of the 1940s and 1950s were influenced by Cat People, either drawing on the film’s shadowy visuals or containing a female character who fears that she possesses a hereditary trait that makes her transform into a monster. The film was followed by a sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, in 1944, and a remake, directed by Paul Schrader, was released in 1982. The film has become well known, though created as a B-movie, being selected by Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1993. Retrospective reception of the original has been varied. Some modern critics have described the film as being too subdued for the genre and have deprecated the quality of the acting. Others have praised the film’s atmosphere and sophistication, with the critic Roger Ebert describing it and the other Val Lewton productions as landmark films of the 1940s.

By William Rose - Scan via Heritage Auctions. Cropped from the original image., Public Domain, cat people
By William Rose – Scan via Heritage Auctions. Cropped from the original image., Public Domain,

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