Cat People


1h 11m 1942
Cat People

Brief Synopsis

A newlywed fears that an ancient curse will turn her into a bloodthirsty beast.

Photos & Videos

Cat People - Theater Displays
Cat People - Simone Simon Publicity Stills
Cat People - Behind-the-Scenes Photo

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Horror
Thriller
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Dec 25, 1942
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Dec 1942
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,534ft

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 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.

Photo Collections

Cat People - Theater Displays
Here are photos of theater marquees and lobby displays decorated for RKO's Cat People (1942). Studio publicity departments regularly chronicled the more elaborate publicity campaigns and theater decorations for their records.
Cat People - Simone Simon Publicity Stills
Here are several stills of Simone Simon, taken to publicize RKO's Cat People (1942), produced by Val Lewton. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Cat People - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Cat People (1942), directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Simone Simon.

Videos

Movie Clip

Cat People (1942) - That's What Makes Me Dangerous Increasingly troubled newlywed immigrant Irina (Simone Simon) is unaware that friend Alice (Jane Randolph) has nothing but benevolent intentions toward her worried husband Oliver (Kent Smith), thus a famous sequence from director Jacques Tourneur, in the original Cat People, 1942.
Cat People (1942) - Torn To Ribbons Jealous Irina (Simone Simon), still wrongly believing that old friend Alice (Jane Randolph) may be carrying on with her husband, decides to give her a fright at the pool, in the celebrated scene from producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, in the original Cat People, 1942.
Cat People (1942) - Their Own Corrupt Passions Irina (Simone Simon), haunted by her Serbian heritage, has agreed to see shrink Louis (Tom Conway), who offers analysis before she returns to husband Oliver (Kent Smith), visiting with friend Alice (Jane Randolph), in Cat People, 1942, from producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur.
Cat People (1942) - Why Is He Spearing That Cat? Immigrant commercial artist Irina (Simone Simon) has delighted engineer Oliver (Kent Smith) by inviting him up for tea, following their cute meeting at the panther cage, early in the original Cat People, 1942, from producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur.
Cat People (1942) - She Looks Like A Cat At their wedding dinner Irina (Simone Simon) is thrilled that Oliver (Kent Smith) has found a Serbian restaurant, friends (Alan Napier, Jack Holt, Jane Randolph) conversing until a spooky fellow immigrant (Elizabeth Russell) appears, in producer Val Lewton's original Cat People 1942.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Horror
Thriller
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Dec 25, 1942
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Dec 1942
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,534ft

Articles

The Essentials - Cat People


SYNOPSIS

Irena (Simone Simon), a beautiful but lonely fashion sketch artist in New York City harbors a dark secret: she is descended from a long line of cat people who turn murderous when aroused. When she falls in love with Oliver (Kent Smith), a handsome draughtsman, he asks her to marry him, despite the fact that Irena has always kept his physical advances at bay. Once married, Irena refuses to consummate the union, believing that if she gives in to her desire, she will transform into a deadly panther and kill the one man she truly loves. Irena begs Oliver to be patient with her, but soon he finds himself attracted to his attentive co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). Jealous and desperate, Irena tries to get help for herself before it is too late.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Producer: Val Lewton
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Editing: Mark Robson
Music: Roy Webb
Costume Designer: Renie
Sound: John L. Cass
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker
Cast: Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice), Jack Holt (Commodore), Alan Napier (Carver), Elizabeth Dunne (Miss Plunkett), Elizabeth Russell (The Cat Woman), Mary Halsey (Blondie), Alec Craig (Zookeeper), George Ford (Whistling cop), Betty Roadman (Mrs. Hansen), Dot Farley (Mrs. Agnew), Charles Jordan (Bus driver), Donald Kerr (Taxi driver).
BW-73m.

Why CAT PEOPLE is Essential

Moody and stylish, Cat People made the most of its limited B-movie budget to create a first rate psychological thriller that relied on suggestion rather than overt special effects.

Before Cat People, RKO Pictures was struggling financially, mostly due to losses related to Orson Welles' expensive 1941 film Citizen Kane. Cat People's astonishing and unexpected financial success helped save the studio and get the struggling RKO back on its feet.

Cat People was the first film ever produced by the legendary horror maestro Val Lewton. Lewton had been working as a story editor for David O. Selznick when he got the chance to produce films for the RKO B-movie unit. Cat People, as his first project, gave him the opportunity to prove what he could do.

The success of Cat People ushered in a new era for Val Lewton's career as a producer at RKO. Following the film, Lewton went on to make eight other successful B-horror films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Body Snatcher (1945) and Bedlam (1946).

In a way, Cat People was RKO's response to Universal's hit film The Wolf Man (1941). Universal had long been making money off of monster movies such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). Now that RKO was in dire need of some extra cash, studio head Charles Koerner thought that horror movies might be the way to go. While Universal relied on heavy makeup for their iconic creatures, RKO -- through their new secret weapon Val Lewton -- would go in the opposite direction, relying on the power of suggestion and the limitless human imagination to conjure up the worst kinds of horrors.

Cat People was the first feature film of note directed by Jacques Tourneur. His experiences on the film and his collaboration with Val Lewton helped influence his film noir sensibilities as he went on to become the director of such notable films as Out of the Past (1947) and Curse of the Demon (1957).

by Andrea Passafiume
The Essentials - Cat People

The Essentials - Cat People

SYNOPSIS Irena (Simone Simon), a beautiful but lonely fashion sketch artist in New York City harbors a dark secret: she is descended from a long line of cat people who turn murderous when aroused. When she falls in love with Oliver (Kent Smith), a handsome draughtsman, he asks her to marry him, despite the fact that Irena has always kept his physical advances at bay. Once married, Irena refuses to consummate the union, believing that if she gives in to her desire, she will transform into a deadly panther and kill the one man she truly loves. Irena begs Oliver to be patient with her, but soon he finds himself attracted to his attentive co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). Jealous and desperate, Irena tries to get help for herself before it is too late. Director: Jacques Tourneur Producer: Val Lewton Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller Editing: Mark Robson Music: Roy Webb Costume Designer: Renie Sound: John L. Cass Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker Cast: Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice), Jack Holt (Commodore), Alan Napier (Carver), Elizabeth Dunne (Miss Plunkett), Elizabeth Russell (The Cat Woman), Mary Halsey (Blondie), Alec Craig (Zookeeper), George Ford (Whistling cop), Betty Roadman (Mrs. Hansen), Dot Farley (Mrs. Agnew), Charles Jordan (Bus driver), Donald Kerr (Taxi driver). BW-73m. Why CAT PEOPLE is Essential Moody and stylish, Cat People made the most of its limited B-movie budget to create a first rate psychological thriller that relied on suggestion rather than overt special effects. Before Cat People, RKO Pictures was struggling financially, mostly due to losses related to Orson Welles' expensive 1941 film Citizen Kane. Cat People's astonishing and unexpected financial success helped save the studio and get the struggling RKO back on its feet. Cat People was the first film ever produced by the legendary horror maestro Val Lewton. Lewton had been working as a story editor for David O. Selznick when he got the chance to produce films for the RKO B-movie unit. Cat People, as his first project, gave him the opportunity to prove what he could do. The success of Cat People ushered in a new era for Val Lewton's career as a producer at RKO. Following the film, Lewton went on to make eight other successful B-horror films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Body Snatcher (1945) and Bedlam (1946). In a way, Cat People was RKO's response to Universal's hit film The Wolf Man (1941). Universal had long been making money off of monster movies such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). Now that RKO was in dire need of some extra cash, studio head Charles Koerner thought that horror movies might be the way to go. While Universal relied on heavy makeup for their iconic creatures, RKO -- through their new secret weapon Val Lewton -- would go in the opposite direction, relying on the power of suggestion and the limitless human imagination to conjure up the worst kinds of horrors. Cat People was the first feature film of note directed by Jacques Tourneur. His experiences on the film and his collaboration with Val Lewton helped influence his film noir sensibilities as he went on to become the director of such notable films as Out of the Past (1947) and Curse of the Demon (1957). by Andrea Passafiume

Pop Culture 101 - Cat People


This classic horror film was remade in 1982--also called Cat People. Directed by Paul Schrader, it starred Malcolm McDowell, Annette O'Toole, John Heard and Nastassja Kinski as Irena.

Cat People performed so well at the box office that RKO ordered Val Lewton to create a sequel called The Curse of the Cat People, which was released in 1944. It starred the same principals from the original: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, and Jane Randolph.

Cat People has remained a classic in the horror genre because it tapped into the fears of the mind, conjuring up monsters that were much more frightening when left to the imagination. The skilled and stylish subtlety with which Lewton generated horror left a lasting impact on the genre and influenced filmmakers for years to come.

Supernatural and horror films featuring cats prominently in the storyline are not uncommon in the genre and some of the more famous examples include The Catman of Paris (1946), Cat Girl (1957), The Shadow of the Cat (1961) - both of the former two starring Barbara Shelley, Eye of the Cat (1969), the 1973 made-for-TV thriller The Cat Creature, directed by Curtis Harrington, and Stephen King's Sleepwalkers (1992) to name a few.

by Andrea Passafiume

Pop Culture 101 - Cat People

This classic horror film was remade in 1982--also called Cat People. Directed by Paul Schrader, it starred Malcolm McDowell, Annette O'Toole, John Heard and Nastassja Kinski as Irena. Cat People performed so well at the box office that RKO ordered Val Lewton to create a sequel called The Curse of the Cat People, which was released in 1944. It starred the same principals from the original: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, and Jane Randolph. Cat People has remained a classic in the horror genre because it tapped into the fears of the mind, conjuring up monsters that were much more frightening when left to the imagination. The skilled and stylish subtlety with which Lewton generated horror left a lasting impact on the genre and influenced filmmakers for years to come. Supernatural and horror films featuring cats prominently in the storyline are not uncommon in the genre and some of the more famous examples include The Catman of Paris (1946), Cat Girl (1957), The Shadow of the Cat (1961) - both of the former two starring Barbara Shelley, Eye of the Cat (1969), the 1973 made-for-TV thriller The Cat Creature, directed by Curtis Harrington, and Stephen King's Sleepwalkers (1992) to name a few. by Andrea Passafiume

Trivia - Cat People - Trivia & Fun Facts About CAT PEOPLE


RKO moved forward with Cat People and held a test screening at a downtown Los Angeles theater. Everyone connected to the film was apprehensive, including Simone Simon, who feared that her performance would be laughed at. Writer DeWitt Bodeen, who was there that night, recalled, "The preview was preceded by a Disney cartoon about a little pussy-cat and Val's spirits sank lower and lower as the audience began to catcall and make loud mewing sounds. 'Oh God!' he kept murmuring, as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The picture's title was greeted with whoops of derision and louder meows, but when the credits were over and the film began to unreel, the audience quieted, and, as the story progressed, reacted as we had hoped an audience might. There were gasps and some screaming as the shock sequences grew. The audience accepted and believed our story, and was enchanted."

Excited by the audience's reaction, RKO decided to give Cat People a big publicity campaign. Screaming advertisements for the film began popping up enticing people to see the film with taglines such as: "To kiss her meant death by her own fangs and claws!"; "She was marked with the curse of those who slink and court and kill by night!"; and "A kiss could change her into a monstrous fang-and-claw killer!"

Reviews for the film were mixed, but positive word-of-mouth generated interest in the film. Much to everyone's delight, Cat People quickly became a huge hit.

The success of Cat People helped rescue RKO from the financial strain generated by Citizen Kane (1941), and put the studio once again into a comfortable position. It also helped Val Lewton, Jacques Tourneur and DeWitt Bodeen prove themselves to the studio while they were still in the beginning stages of their careers. RKO rewarded Tourneur and Bodeen by giving them long-term contracts. Actress Simone Simon's career, unfortunately, was little affected by the film's success, though she would always be remembered for her memorable performance as Irena.

With RKO pleased with the performance of Cat People, Val Lewton continued to make thrillers for the studio over the next several years using his signature understated style, resulting in eight more films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945). At RKO's behest, Lewton made The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, a loose sequel to the original starring the same three principals: Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph.

A telegram sent by his old boss David O. Selznick upon the success of Cat People was among Val Lewton's most treasured gifts. It said: "I feel that Cat People definitely and at one stroke establishes you as a producer of great competence and I know no man in recent years who has made so much out of so little as a first picture."

Cat People was shot in a mere 18 days.

When Irena is approached at her wedding reception dinner by the mysterious feline woman (Elizabeth Russell) who calls her "sister," it is really actress Simone Simon's voice we hear dubbed.

Actor Tom Conway who plays Irena's smarmy psychiatrist Dr. Judd was the brother of actor George Sanders. According to the book Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror by Joel E. Siegel, Lewton always referred to Conway as "the nice George Sanders."

Kirk Douglas's character in the 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, B-film producer Jonathan Shields, was rumored to be based on producer Val Lewton. In the film, Shields is the producer of a low budget horror film called The Doom of the Cat Men in which he uses every money saving trick in the book to imply horror rather than show it a la Lewton.

Memorable Quotes from CAT PEOPLE

"I've never had anyone here. You're the first friend I met in America. Oh, I know lots of people in business. Editors, secretaries, other sketch artists, you know. But you might be my first real friend."
--Irena (Simone Simon) to Oliver (Kent Smith)

"What's that?"
"It's the lions in the zoo. One can hear them here often. Many people in this building complain. The roaring keeps them awake."
"And you don't mind it?"
"No. To me, it's the way the sound of the sea is to others: natural and soothing. I like it."
- Oliver / Irena, discussing a sketch Irena drew

"I like the dark. It's friendly."
- Irena, to Oliver

"Cats don't seem to like me."
-Irena

"You can fool everybody, but, landie, dearie me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know who's not right, if you know what I mean."
--Pet Store Proprietress, to Irena

"I've never kissed you. Do you know, that's funny."
"Why?"
"Well, when people in America are in love, or even think they're in love, they've usually kissed long ago."
--Oliver/Irena

"Irena, you've told me something in the past. About King John and the witches in the village and the cat people descended from them. They're fairy tales, Irena. Fairy tales heard in your childhood. Nothing more than that. They've nothing to do with you, really. You're Irena. You're here in America. You're so normal you're gonna marry me. And those fairy tales, you can tell them to our children. They'll love them."
--Oliver, to Irena

"They torment me. I wake in the night and the tread of their feet whispers in my brain. I have no peace, for they are in me."
--Irena, to Dr. Judd (Tom Conway)

"You can tell Alice anything. She's such a good egg, she can understand anything."
"There are some things a woman doesn't want other women to understand."
--Oliver/Irena

"I know what love is. It's understanding. It's you and me, and let the rest of the world go by. It's just the two of us living our lives together, happily and proudly. No self-torture and no doubt. It's enduring and it's everlasting. Nothing can change it."
- Alice (Jane Randolph), to Oliver

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

Trivia - Cat People - Trivia & Fun Facts About CAT PEOPLE

RKO moved forward with Cat People and held a test screening at a downtown Los Angeles theater. Everyone connected to the film was apprehensive, including Simone Simon, who feared that her performance would be laughed at. Writer DeWitt Bodeen, who was there that night, recalled, "The preview was preceded by a Disney cartoon about a little pussy-cat and Val's spirits sank lower and lower as the audience began to catcall and make loud mewing sounds. 'Oh God!' he kept murmuring, as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The picture's title was greeted with whoops of derision and louder meows, but when the credits were over and the film began to unreel, the audience quieted, and, as the story progressed, reacted as we had hoped an audience might. There were gasps and some screaming as the shock sequences grew. The audience accepted and believed our story, and was enchanted." Excited by the audience's reaction, RKO decided to give Cat People a big publicity campaign. Screaming advertisements for the film began popping up enticing people to see the film with taglines such as: "To kiss her meant death by her own fangs and claws!"; "She was marked with the curse of those who slink and court and kill by night!"; and "A kiss could change her into a monstrous fang-and-claw killer!" Reviews for the film were mixed, but positive word-of-mouth generated interest in the film. Much to everyone's delight, Cat People quickly became a huge hit. The success of Cat People helped rescue RKO from the financial strain generated by Citizen Kane (1941), and put the studio once again into a comfortable position. It also helped Val Lewton, Jacques Tourneur and DeWitt Bodeen prove themselves to the studio while they were still in the beginning stages of their careers. RKO rewarded Tourneur and Bodeen by giving them long-term contracts. Actress Simone Simon's career, unfortunately, was little affected by the film's success, though she would always be remembered for her memorable performance as Irena. With RKO pleased with the performance of Cat People, Val Lewton continued to make thrillers for the studio over the next several years using his signature understated style, resulting in eight more films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945). At RKO's behest, Lewton made The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, a loose sequel to the original starring the same three principals: Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph. A telegram sent by his old boss David O. Selznick upon the success of Cat People was among Val Lewton's most treasured gifts. It said: "I feel that Cat People definitely and at one stroke establishes you as a producer of great competence and I know no man in recent years who has made so much out of so little as a first picture." Cat People was shot in a mere 18 days. When Irena is approached at her wedding reception dinner by the mysterious feline woman (Elizabeth Russell) who calls her "sister," it is really actress Simone Simon's voice we hear dubbed. Actor Tom Conway who plays Irena's smarmy psychiatrist Dr. Judd was the brother of actor George Sanders. According to the book Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror by Joel E. Siegel, Lewton always referred to Conway as "the nice George Sanders." Kirk Douglas's character in the 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, B-film producer Jonathan Shields, was rumored to be based on producer Val Lewton. In the film, Shields is the producer of a low budget horror film called The Doom of the Cat Men in which he uses every money saving trick in the book to imply horror rather than show it a la Lewton. Memorable Quotes from CAT PEOPLE "I've never had anyone here. You're the first friend I met in America. Oh, I know lots of people in business. Editors, secretaries, other sketch artists, you know. But you might be my first real friend."--Irena (Simone Simon) to Oliver (Kent Smith) "What's that?" "It's the lions in the zoo. One can hear them here often. Many people in this building complain. The roaring keeps them awake." "And you don't mind it?" "No. To me, it's the way the sound of the sea is to others: natural and soothing. I like it." - Oliver / Irena, discussing a sketch Irena drew "I like the dark. It's friendly." - Irena, to Oliver "Cats don't seem to like me." -Irena "You can fool everybody, but, landie, dearie me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know who's not right, if you know what I mean." --Pet Store Proprietress, to Irena "I've never kissed you. Do you know, that's funny." "Why?" "Well, when people in America are in love, or even think they're in love, they've usually kissed long ago." --Oliver/Irena "Irena, you've told me something in the past. About King John and the witches in the village and the cat people descended from them. They're fairy tales, Irena. Fairy tales heard in your childhood. Nothing more than that. They've nothing to do with you, really. You're Irena. You're here in America. You're so normal you're gonna marry me. And those fairy tales, you can tell them to our children. They'll love them." --Oliver, to Irena "They torment me. I wake in the night and the tread of their feet whispers in my brain. I have no peace, for they are in me." --Irena, to Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) "You can tell Alice anything. She's such a good egg, she can understand anything." "There are some things a woman doesn't want other women to understand." --Oliver/Irena "I know what love is. It's understanding. It's you and me, and let the rest of the world go by. It's just the two of us living our lives together, happily and proudly. No self-torture and no doubt. It's enduring and it's everlasting. Nothing can change it." - Alice (Jane Randolph), to Oliver Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

The Big Idea - Cat People


It is entirely possible that Cat People would never have been made if it hadn't been for Orson Welles' magnum opus Citizen Kane (1941). Although Citizen Kane received great critical acclaim and went on to be considered the best American film of all time by many, it had been an expensive and troubled production that left Welles' studio, RKO, financially strapped. They needed to make money -- fast.

RKO had noticed how rival studio, Universal Pictures, had been turning a profit for years by making horror films. Their latest release, The Wolf Man (1941) was the most recent in a long line of Universal hits that included Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931), and The Mummy (1932). Universal's horror films generally featured elaborate monster makeup and/or transformations, and the public lined up to buy tickets again and again.

Using Universal as a model, RKO studio chief Charles Koerner decided that there was no reason why RKO couldn't make horror films too -- and with less money. Koerner decided to form a new B-movie unit at RKO that would be strictly dedicated to making low budget horror films. He needed someone to make films for the unit who could emulate the glossy formula of a Universal chiller, but also be able to do it on a shoestring budget. That person was Val Lewton.

Val Lewton had been working as a story editor to famed producer David O. Selznick, but had grown restless with his job. He needed a new challenge, and when the opportunity to produce films at RKO came along, Lewton jumped at the chance.

Lewton wasted no time in bringing his friend, writer DeWitt Bodeen, over to RKO and getting him put on salary as a contract writer. "When I reported for work," said Bodeen according to the 1973 book Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror by Joel E. Siegel, "[Lewton] ran off for me some U.S. and British horror and suspense movies which were typical of what he did not want to do. We spent several days talking about possible subjects for the first script. Mr. Koerner...was of the opinion that vampires, werewolves and man-made monsters had been over-exploited and that 'nobody has done much with cats'. He added that he had successfully audience-tested a title he considered highly exploitable--Cat People. 'Let's see what you two can do with that,' he ordered. When we were back in his office, Val looked at me glumly and said: 'There's no helping it - we're stuck with that title. If you want to get out now, I won't hold it against you.'"

Bodeen had no intention of backing out, and he and Lewton set about trying to come up with a suitable story idea to fit the title of Cat People. They researched the theme of cats present in literature, which turned out to be more than they had expected. Lewton came close to using a short story by Algernon Blackwood called Ancient Sorceries as the basis for the story, but suddenly changed his mind. "[Lewton] arrived at his office unusually early and called me in at once," said Bodeen. "He had spent a sleepless night, he confessed, and had decided that instead of a picture with a foreign setting, he would do an original story laid in contemporary New York. It was to deal with a triangle - a normal young man falls in love with a strange foreign girl who is obsessed by abnormal fears, and when her obsession destroys his love and he turns for consolation to a very normal girl, his office co-worker, the discarded one, beset by jealousy, attempts to destroy the young man's new love."

Val Lewton's sister recalled later that the storyline was in part influenced by a time when he once saw a series of French fashion sketches that depicted female models with the heads of cats. It was a striking image that had always stayed with him. Cats were also a source of anxiety for Lewton, according to his wife Ruth. In a 1993 interview she explained, "Val hated cats...I remember once I was in bed and he was writing -- he used to like to write late into the night -- there was a cat fight outside, and the next thing I knew he was up at the foot of my bed nervous and frightened. He was very unhappy about cats. I think it stemmed from an old folk tale remembered from Russia that cats were peculiar creatures that you couldn't trust."

All along Lewton knew that he wanted his old friend Jacques Tourneur to direct Cat People and asked him to join the project. Lewton and Tourneur had met while they were both working on the second unit of MGM's A Tale of Two Cities in 1935 and become friends. They had a shared sensibility that would help establish their respective careers as they worked in collaboration at RKO.

Once DeWitt Bodeen completed a rough draft of the Cat People screenplay, he and Lewton set about polishing it up for maximum effect. "Our formula is simple," Lewton told the Los Angeles Times. "A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fadeout. It's all over in less than 70 minutes. We tossed away the horror formula right from the beginning. No grisly stuff for us. No masklike faces hardly human, with gnashing teeth and hair standing on end. No creaking physical manifestations. No horror piled on horror. You can't keep up horror that's long sustained. It becomes something to laugh at. But take a sweet love story, or a story of sexual antagonisms, about people like the rest of us, not freaks, and cut in your horror here and there by suggestion, and you've got something."

Lewton's idea of trusting that the most effective kind of horror was the kind that existed in the mind was as much a product of necessity as it was creativity, since RKO's budget constraints would prevent him from being able to do any elaborate special effects. Nevertheless, the forced limitations helped generate the script's most unnerving sequences -- all using nothing more than the power of suggestion. The famous swimming pool scene in which Irena's rival Alice is stalked by an unseen -- presumably animal -- presence was inspired, according to the 1998 book The Cinema of Nightfall: Jacques Tourneur by Chris Fujiwara, by incidents that happened to both DeWitt Bodeen and Jacques Tourneur. Bodeen had once nearly drowned while swimming in a pool alone at night, and Tourneur said that he had once been alone in a friend's swimming pool when the friend's pet cheetah got out of his cage and began roaming the area nearby.

To play the central role of Irena, Val Lewton chose kitten-faced French actress Simone Simon. Simon was already an established star in France when she signed on to do Cat People, but had yet to make her mark in America. Simon had initially come to Hollywood to make the 1936 film Girls' Dormitory for 20th Century Fox and later returned to play the role of Belle in RKO's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Lewton found Simon to be an intriguing presence onscreen and thought her European mystique would bring a unique quality to the enigmatic character of Irena. With Simon's innocent beauty, it would keep audiences guessing as to whether or not the sweet Irena was even capable of turning into a murderous cat. Simon was signed to do the film at a bargain price, and the character of Irena would go on to become the defining role of her American film career.

For Irena's husband, Oliver, Val Lewton chose an RKO contract player named Kent Smith. The actor had been under contract for 9 months at the time without having appeared in a single picture at RKO. Cat People would be his first leading role.

Val Lewton chose another RKO contract player, Jane Randolph, to play Oliver's co-worker and Irena's rival Alice. Randolph was a relative newcomer to film and was being tested out by RKO in their B-movie unit to see if she had the makings of a real movie star.

Actor Tom Conway, brother of George Sanders, was also added to the cast, playing Irena's lecherous psychiatrist Dr. Judd, along with slinky feline-looking actress Elizabeth Russell in the uncredited but memorable role of "The Cat Woman" -- the woman who recognizes Irena at her wedding dinner as her "sister."

With Cat People as Lewton's first effort at producing, he was determined to lift the potentially lurid material to a higher artistic level and exceed all expectations. RKO just hoped it would be a hit.

by Andrea Passafiume

The Big Idea - Cat People

It is entirely possible that Cat People would never have been made if it hadn't been for Orson Welles' magnum opus Citizen Kane (1941). Although Citizen Kane received great critical acclaim and went on to be considered the best American film of all time by many, it had been an expensive and troubled production that left Welles' studio, RKO, financially strapped. They needed to make money -- fast. RKO had noticed how rival studio, Universal Pictures, had been turning a profit for years by making horror films. Their latest release, The Wolf Man (1941) was the most recent in a long line of Universal hits that included Dracula, Frankenstein (both 1931), and The Mummy (1932). Universal's horror films generally featured elaborate monster makeup and/or transformations, and the public lined up to buy tickets again and again. Using Universal as a model, RKO studio chief Charles Koerner decided that there was no reason why RKO couldn't make horror films too -- and with less money. Koerner decided to form a new B-movie unit at RKO that would be strictly dedicated to making low budget horror films. He needed someone to make films for the unit who could emulate the glossy formula of a Universal chiller, but also be able to do it on a shoestring budget. That person was Val Lewton. Val Lewton had been working as a story editor to famed producer David O. Selznick, but had grown restless with his job. He needed a new challenge, and when the opportunity to produce films at RKO came along, Lewton jumped at the chance. Lewton wasted no time in bringing his friend, writer DeWitt Bodeen, over to RKO and getting him put on salary as a contract writer. "When I reported for work," said Bodeen according to the 1973 book Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror by Joel E. Siegel, "[Lewton] ran off for me some U.S. and British horror and suspense movies which were typical of what he did not want to do. We spent several days talking about possible subjects for the first script. Mr. Koerner...was of the opinion that vampires, werewolves and man-made monsters had been over-exploited and that 'nobody has done much with cats'. He added that he had successfully audience-tested a title he considered highly exploitable--Cat People. 'Let's see what you two can do with that,' he ordered. When we were back in his office, Val looked at me glumly and said: 'There's no helping it - we're stuck with that title. If you want to get out now, I won't hold it against you.'" Bodeen had no intention of backing out, and he and Lewton set about trying to come up with a suitable story idea to fit the title of Cat People. They researched the theme of cats present in literature, which turned out to be more than they had expected. Lewton came close to using a short story by Algernon Blackwood called Ancient Sorceries as the basis for the story, but suddenly changed his mind. "[Lewton] arrived at his office unusually early and called me in at once," said Bodeen. "He had spent a sleepless night, he confessed, and had decided that instead of a picture with a foreign setting, he would do an original story laid in contemporary New York. It was to deal with a triangle - a normal young man falls in love with a strange foreign girl who is obsessed by abnormal fears, and when her obsession destroys his love and he turns for consolation to a very normal girl, his office co-worker, the discarded one, beset by jealousy, attempts to destroy the young man's new love." Val Lewton's sister recalled later that the storyline was in part influenced by a time when he once saw a series of French fashion sketches that depicted female models with the heads of cats. It was a striking image that had always stayed with him. Cats were also a source of anxiety for Lewton, according to his wife Ruth. In a 1993 interview she explained, "Val hated cats...I remember once I was in bed and he was writing -- he used to like to write late into the night -- there was a cat fight outside, and the next thing I knew he was up at the foot of my bed nervous and frightened. He was very unhappy about cats. I think it stemmed from an old folk tale remembered from Russia that cats were peculiar creatures that you couldn't trust." All along Lewton knew that he wanted his old friend Jacques Tourneur to direct Cat People and asked him to join the project. Lewton and Tourneur had met while they were both working on the second unit of MGM's A Tale of Two Cities in 1935 and become friends. They had a shared sensibility that would help establish their respective careers as they worked in collaboration at RKO. Once DeWitt Bodeen completed a rough draft of the Cat People screenplay, he and Lewton set about polishing it up for maximum effect. "Our formula is simple," Lewton told the Los Angeles Times. "A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fadeout. It's all over in less than 70 minutes. We tossed away the horror formula right from the beginning. No grisly stuff for us. No masklike faces hardly human, with gnashing teeth and hair standing on end. No creaking physical manifestations. No horror piled on horror. You can't keep up horror that's long sustained. It becomes something to laugh at. But take a sweet love story, or a story of sexual antagonisms, about people like the rest of us, not freaks, and cut in your horror here and there by suggestion, and you've got something." Lewton's idea of trusting that the most effective kind of horror was the kind that existed in the mind was as much a product of necessity as it was creativity, since RKO's budget constraints would prevent him from being able to do any elaborate special effects. Nevertheless, the forced limitations helped generate the script's most unnerving sequences -- all using nothing more than the power of suggestion. The famous swimming pool scene in which Irena's rival Alice is stalked by an unseen -- presumably animal -- presence was inspired, according to the 1998 book The Cinema of Nightfall: Jacques Tourneur by Chris Fujiwara, by incidents that happened to both DeWitt Bodeen and Jacques Tourneur. Bodeen had once nearly drowned while swimming in a pool alone at night, and Tourneur said that he had once been alone in a friend's swimming pool when the friend's pet cheetah got out of his cage and began roaming the area nearby. To play the central role of Irena, Val Lewton chose kitten-faced French actress Simone Simon. Simon was already an established star in France when she signed on to do Cat People, but had yet to make her mark in America. Simon had initially come to Hollywood to make the 1936 film Girls' Dormitory for 20th Century Fox and later returned to play the role of Belle in RKO's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Lewton found Simon to be an intriguing presence onscreen and thought her European mystique would bring a unique quality to the enigmatic character of Irena. With Simon's innocent beauty, it would keep audiences guessing as to whether or not the sweet Irena was even capable of turning into a murderous cat. Simon was signed to do the film at a bargain price, and the character of Irena would go on to become the defining role of her American film career. For Irena's husband, Oliver, Val Lewton chose an RKO contract player named Kent Smith. The actor had been under contract for 9 months at the time without having appeared in a single picture at RKO. Cat People would be his first leading role. Val Lewton chose another RKO contract player, Jane Randolph, to play Oliver's co-worker and Irena's rival Alice. Randolph was a relative newcomer to film and was being tested out by RKO in their B-movie unit to see if she had the makings of a real movie star. Actor Tom Conway, brother of George Sanders, was also added to the cast, playing Irena's lecherous psychiatrist Dr. Judd, along with slinky feline-looking actress Elizabeth Russell in the uncredited but memorable role of "The Cat Woman" -- the woman who recognizes Irena at her wedding dinner as her "sister." With Cat People as Lewton's first effort at producing, he was determined to lift the potentially lurid material to a higher artistic level and exceed all expectations. RKO just hoped it would be a hit. by Andrea Passafiume

Behind the Camera - Cat People


The cameras rolled on Cat People in July of 1942. It was to be a briskly paced 18-day shoot that ran smoothly and stuck to its shoestring budget.

One of the ways in which Val Lewton saved money on the production was to utilize already existing sets from previous RKO films throughout Cat People. Among those he used was a Central Park Zoo set that had been used in numerous RKO pictures including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, and a giant, magnificent staircase built for Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). One director/producer who was mentored by Lewton commented on this practice in a 1973 interview. "I learned a great secret about film producing from Val," he said. "He always told me not to spread a small budget over five or six sets - instead pick the location where most of the action will be played and make that a real showpiece. Then make do with the rest of the scenes. One elaborate set makes a film look much richer than it deserves to look. Val was a very careful man; he knew how to spend money and how to put it on the screen."

The budgetary restrictions on Cat People always forced Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur to be more creative. The presence of a murderous cat was mostly suggested through nothing more than sound effects and stylish visual shadowplay. The scenes were decorated with a number of feline-themed props in the background such as statues, paintings, tiger lilies, and a claw-footed bathtub, all of which helped to symbolically convey the constant looming threat of Irena's secret.

One of Lewton's best suggestive "tricks" that he used in Cat People was the "bus," and it became a staple in his filmmaking style. The term "bus" grew out of the scene in which Alice is stalked through Central Park by an unseen presence at night. The tense scene had Alice walking more and more quickly with the sound of clicking heels following her in the darkness. Whenever Alice stopped, the clicking stopped. There was a conscious decision on Lewton's part to have no music in the scene to help emphasize the dead silence that underscored Alice's fear. As she rushes to a lamp post, a huge bus suddenly pulls into frame with the shrieking sound of its brakes bringing it to a stop in front of her. The unexpected jolt broke the tension of the scene and would later have audiences jumping a mile out of their seats.

"To find ever new 'busses' or horror spots, is a horror expert's most difficult problem," said Lewton in a later interview. "Horror spots must be well planned and there should be no more than four or five in a picture. Most of them are caused by the fundamental fears: sudden sound, wild animals, darkness. The horror addicts will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Lewton expanded on this "less is more" philosophy of psychological horror: "I'll tell you a secret: if you make the screen dark enough, the mind's eye will read anything into it you want!" he said. "We're great ones for dark patches. Remember the long walk alone at night in Cat People? Most people will swear they saw a leopard move in the hedge above her - but they didn't! Optical illusion; dark patch."

Despite his best efforts, Val Lewton came very close to being fired after only three days of shooting on Cat People. Lew Ostrow, the head of RKO's B-unit, had looked at the first three days of rushes and was not happy with what he saw. Ostrow wanted Lewton out, but was ultimately overruled by RKO chief Charles Koerner who was happy with Lewton's work and wanted him to continue.

The Cat People production wrapped in August 1942, and the film ended up costing a total of $134,000. The suits at RKO were reportedly dubious about the finished film. It was too subtle and possibly not overt enough to compete with Universal's brand of horror.

by Andrea Passafiume

Behind the Camera - Cat People

The cameras rolled on Cat People in July of 1942. It was to be a briskly paced 18-day shoot that ran smoothly and stuck to its shoestring budget. One of the ways in which Val Lewton saved money on the production was to utilize already existing sets from previous RKO films throughout Cat People. Among those he used was a Central Park Zoo set that had been used in numerous RKO pictures including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, and a giant, magnificent staircase built for Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). One director/producer who was mentored by Lewton commented on this practice in a 1973 interview. "I learned a great secret about film producing from Val," he said. "He always told me not to spread a small budget over five or six sets - instead pick the location where most of the action will be played and make that a real showpiece. Then make do with the rest of the scenes. One elaborate set makes a film look much richer than it deserves to look. Val was a very careful man; he knew how to spend money and how to put it on the screen." The budgetary restrictions on Cat People always forced Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur to be more creative. The presence of a murderous cat was mostly suggested through nothing more than sound effects and stylish visual shadowplay. The scenes were decorated with a number of feline-themed props in the background such as statues, paintings, tiger lilies, and a claw-footed bathtub, all of which helped to symbolically convey the constant looming threat of Irena's secret. One of Lewton's best suggestive "tricks" that he used in Cat People was the "bus," and it became a staple in his filmmaking style. The term "bus" grew out of the scene in which Alice is stalked through Central Park by an unseen presence at night. The tense scene had Alice walking more and more quickly with the sound of clicking heels following her in the darkness. Whenever Alice stopped, the clicking stopped. There was a conscious decision on Lewton's part to have no music in the scene to help emphasize the dead silence that underscored Alice's fear. As she rushes to a lamp post, a huge bus suddenly pulls into frame with the shrieking sound of its brakes bringing it to a stop in front of her. The unexpected jolt broke the tension of the scene and would later have audiences jumping a mile out of their seats. "To find ever new 'busses' or horror spots, is a horror expert's most difficult problem," said Lewton in a later interview. "Horror spots must be well planned and there should be no more than four or five in a picture. Most of them are caused by the fundamental fears: sudden sound, wild animals, darkness. The horror addicts will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of." In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Lewton expanded on this "less is more" philosophy of psychological horror: "I'll tell you a secret: if you make the screen dark enough, the mind's eye will read anything into it you want!" he said. "We're great ones for dark patches. Remember the long walk alone at night in Cat People? Most people will swear they saw a leopard move in the hedge above her - but they didn't! Optical illusion; dark patch." Despite his best efforts, Val Lewton came very close to being fired after only three days of shooting on Cat People. Lew Ostrow, the head of RKO's B-unit, had looked at the first three days of rushes and was not happy with what he saw. Ostrow wanted Lewton out, but was ultimately overruled by RKO chief Charles Koerner who was happy with Lewton's work and wanted him to continue. The Cat People production wrapped in August 1942, and the film ended up costing a total of $134,000. The suits at RKO were reportedly dubious about the finished film. It was too subtle and possibly not overt enough to compete with Universal's brand of horror. by Andrea Passafiume

Cat People


"Kiss me and I'll claw you to death!"

Tag line for Cat People

Producer Val Lewton taught Hollywood how to scare people on a budget when he released Cat People, the first in his series of psychological horror films at RKO Studios, in 1942. After years of cheap thrillers dominated by hooded killers, men in gorilla suits, sliding panels and low-grade shocks, Lewton proved that intelligent films that made viewers imagine the worst rather than subjecting them to cheap fright effects could unnerve even the toughest audience.

Lewton was a hot commodity in Hollywood when RKO production chief Charles Koerner lured him away from a position as David O. Selznick's story editor to produce for the studio's B-picture unit. All Koerner wanted was a series of provocatively titled thrillers to fill out the studio's double bills. What he got was a revolution. At first Lewton wasn't sure he'd made the right move. When Koerner told him his first film would be called Cat People, Lewton was so embarrassed he offered to let writer DeWitt Bodeen, another Selznick alumnus, out of his contract. But then he and Bodeen came up with an angle, a story that drew on some of Lewton's own phobias to create an unsettling, ambiguous psychological thriller about Irena (Simone Simon), a fashion designer who fears that giving into her passions will turn her into a murderous panther. She marries nonetheless but holds her husband at arm's length, afraid to consummate their relationship. Soon she grows suspicious of her husband and a sympathetic female co-worker and begins stalking them. Lewton wanted to leave some doubt as to whether Irena actually turned into a cat or simply behaved like one, but the studio's executives demanded some shots of a real cat. So director Jacques Tourneur filmed the cat during one attack but kept the lighting so low that it was barely discernible. For another sequence, the director made shadow puppets on the walls to suggest the panther's presence.

With Cat People, Lewton established a formula for fear that he would exploit in later films like I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945) (more lurid titles forced on him by Koerner). Lewton's films would start slowly in familiar surroundings while establishing the characters, then begin building a sense of dread and imminent danger. Then there would be a series of frightening scenes using suggestion rather than overt shocks but growing in intensity until the climax. And just to keep audiences jumping, the horrific scenes would climax with an unexpected jolt that usually signaled a return to normalcy. In Cat People, for example, the unseen Irena stalks her romantic rival through Central Park. Just as the cat seems about to attack, a bus pulls up, slamming on the brakes and opening its doors with a screeching sound that almost always sends audiences out of their seats. In honor of his first use of this gimmick, Lewton called such shocks "busses."

Cat People was shot quickly on a budget of less than $150,000. To make the film look more expensive, Lewton had art directors Albert S. D'Agostino and Walter E. Keller re-dress sets from more expensive films. The scenes in the Central Park Zoo were shot on standing sets that had been used in several studio films, most notably the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Shall We Dance (1937). For Irena's apartment building, they used the staircase from Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). When standing sets weren't available, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca filled the frame with shadows to hide the fact that they were working with the bare minimum.

It's no surprise that Cat People was a bit too subtle for RKO's management. Early in the shooting process, Lewton's immediate boss, B-movie production chief Lew Ostrow, tried to get director Jacques Tourneur fired. Lewton went over his head to Koerner to keep Tourneur on the film. But when he screened the finished film for Koerner and the other executives, they were so shocked nobody would even talk to him.

The film had its preview at a downtown LA theatre known for attracting a rough crowd. Some genius decided to book a Disney cartoon about a lovable kitten before the film, and the audience greeted the short with laughter and cat calls. Lewton was fearing the worst when the feature started, fears that were confirmed when the cat calls continued in response to the picture's title. But then the film worked its spell, and the audience sat entranced. The same thing happened wherever the film played. Despite mixed reviews, it broke box-office records, even playing 13 weeks at a first-run theatre in Los Angeles. Cat People didn't just turn a small profit. It grossed $4 million worldwide and saved RKO from bankruptcy. In gratitude, the studio gave Bodeen a new contract with a hefty raise. The director they'd tried to fire was given a $5,000 bonus and the promise of top-budget films as soon as he finished his obligation to Lewton. And Lewton got to work with a lot less interference and a lot more cooperation, though he was still stuck with the lowbrow titles. But in this case, the lowbrow proved to be highbrow as he turned out a series of intelligent horror films that made film history. Fifty years later, Cat People would earn a place on the National Film Registry, giving it official status as a national treasure.

Producer: Val Lewton
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Music: Roy Webb
Principal Cast: Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Carver), Elizabeth Russell (The Cat Woman).
BW-73m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Frank Miller

Cat People

"Kiss me and I'll claw you to death!" Tag line for Cat People Producer Val Lewton taught Hollywood how to scare people on a budget when he released Cat People, the first in his series of psychological horror films at RKO Studios, in 1942. After years of cheap thrillers dominated by hooded killers, men in gorilla suits, sliding panels and low-grade shocks, Lewton proved that intelligent films that made viewers imagine the worst rather than subjecting them to cheap fright effects could unnerve even the toughest audience. Lewton was a hot commodity in Hollywood when RKO production chief Charles Koerner lured him away from a position as David O. Selznick's story editor to produce for the studio's B-picture unit. All Koerner wanted was a series of provocatively titled thrillers to fill out the studio's double bills. What he got was a revolution. At first Lewton wasn't sure he'd made the right move. When Koerner told him his first film would be called Cat People, Lewton was so embarrassed he offered to let writer DeWitt Bodeen, another Selznick alumnus, out of his contract. But then he and Bodeen came up with an angle, a story that drew on some of Lewton's own phobias to create an unsettling, ambiguous psychological thriller about Irena (Simone Simon), a fashion designer who fears that giving into her passions will turn her into a murderous panther. She marries nonetheless but holds her husband at arm's length, afraid to consummate their relationship. Soon she grows suspicious of her husband and a sympathetic female co-worker and begins stalking them. Lewton wanted to leave some doubt as to whether Irena actually turned into a cat or simply behaved like one, but the studio's executives demanded some shots of a real cat. So director Jacques Tourneur filmed the cat during one attack but kept the lighting so low that it was barely discernible. For another sequence, the director made shadow puppets on the walls to suggest the panther's presence. With Cat People, Lewton established a formula for fear that he would exploit in later films like I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945) (more lurid titles forced on him by Koerner). Lewton's films would start slowly in familiar surroundings while establishing the characters, then begin building a sense of dread and imminent danger. Then there would be a series of frightening scenes using suggestion rather than overt shocks but growing in intensity until the climax. And just to keep audiences jumping, the horrific scenes would climax with an unexpected jolt that usually signaled a return to normalcy. In Cat People, for example, the unseen Irena stalks her romantic rival through Central Park. Just as the cat seems about to attack, a bus pulls up, slamming on the brakes and opening its doors with a screeching sound that almost always sends audiences out of their seats. In honor of his first use of this gimmick, Lewton called such shocks "busses." Cat People was shot quickly on a budget of less than $150,000. To make the film look more expensive, Lewton had art directors Albert S. D'Agostino and Walter E. Keller re-dress sets from more expensive films. The scenes in the Central Park Zoo were shot on standing sets that had been used in several studio films, most notably the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Shall We Dance (1937). For Irena's apartment building, they used the staircase from Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). When standing sets weren't available, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca filled the frame with shadows to hide the fact that they were working with the bare minimum. It's no surprise that Cat People was a bit too subtle for RKO's management. Early in the shooting process, Lewton's immediate boss, B-movie production chief Lew Ostrow, tried to get director Jacques Tourneur fired. Lewton went over his head to Koerner to keep Tourneur on the film. But when he screened the finished film for Koerner and the other executives, they were so shocked nobody would even talk to him. The film had its preview at a downtown LA theatre known for attracting a rough crowd. Some genius decided to book a Disney cartoon about a lovable kitten before the film, and the audience greeted the short with laughter and cat calls. Lewton was fearing the worst when the feature started, fears that were confirmed when the cat calls continued in response to the picture's title. But then the film worked its spell, and the audience sat entranced. The same thing happened wherever the film played. Despite mixed reviews, it broke box-office records, even playing 13 weeks at a first-run theatre in Los Angeles. Cat People didn't just turn a small profit. It grossed $4 million worldwide and saved RKO from bankruptcy. In gratitude, the studio gave Bodeen a new contract with a hefty raise. The director they'd tried to fire was given a $5,000 bonus and the promise of top-budget films as soon as he finished his obligation to Lewton. And Lewton got to work with a lot less interference and a lot more cooperation, though he was still stuck with the lowbrow titles. But in this case, the lowbrow proved to be highbrow as he turned out a series of intelligent horror films that made film history. Fifty years later, Cat People would earn a place on the National Film Registry, giving it official status as a national treasure. Producer: Val Lewton Director: Jacques Tourneur Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller Music: Roy Webb Principal Cast: Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Carver), Elizabeth Russell (The Cat Woman). BW-73m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video. by Frank Miller

Critics' Corner - Cat People


AWARDS AND HONORS

In 1993 Cat People was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

Critic Reviews: CAT PEOPLE

"Lewton pictures aren't really very good, but they're so much more imaginative than most of the horror films that other producers were grinding out at the time that his ingenuity seemed practically revolutionary. Some of the sequences, such as the scare at the swimming pool, are in their own way classic." - Pauline Kael

"Paul Schrader made a much more specific version of Cat People in 1982, which I admired for its own qualities, including the use of atmospheric New Orleans locations. But the 1942 movie gets under your skin. There is something subtly alarming about the oddly mannered good-girl behavior of Simone Simon, and the unearthly detachment of Kent Smith as her husband, and the rooms and streets that look not like places but like ideas of places. And something touching about Irena, who has never had a friend, and fears she will kill the only person she loves, and is told she is insane." - Roger Ebert

"This is a weird drama of thrill-chill caliber, with developments of surprises confined to psychology and mental reactions, rather than transformation to grotesque and marauding characters for visual impact on the audiences. Picture is well-made on moderate budget outlay...Script, although hazy for the average audience in several instances, carries sufficient punch in the melodramatic sequences to hold it together in good style...[Tourneur] does a fine job with a most difficult assignment." -- Variety

"The strangely embarrassing predicament of a lady who finds herself possessed of mystical feline temptations, especially one to claw people to death, is the topic pursued at tedious and graphically unproductive length in RKO's latest little chiller, Cat People...Ladies who have such temptations--in straight horror pictures, at least--should exercise their digits a bit more freely than does Simone Simon in this film. And people who make such pictures should do so much more briskly than they have here. Cat People is a labored and obvious attempt to induce shock. And Miss Simon's cuddly little tabby would barely frighten a mouse under a chair." - The New York Times

"The Cat People is a brain-cracking story of a girl who turns cat. It is not quite so horrifying as its makers wanted it to be because Simone Simon does not give people real feline shudders." -- Time Magazine

"Storyline and plot elements don't hold up, but moments of shock and terror are undiminished in the first of producer Val Lewton's famous horror films." - Leonard Maltin, All Movie Guide

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

Critics' Corner - Cat People

AWARDS AND HONORS In 1993 Cat People was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Critic Reviews: CAT PEOPLE "Lewton pictures aren't really very good, but they're so much more imaginative than most of the horror films that other producers were grinding out at the time that his ingenuity seemed practically revolutionary. Some of the sequences, such as the scare at the swimming pool, are in their own way classic." - Pauline Kael "Paul Schrader made a much more specific version of Cat People in 1982, which I admired for its own qualities, including the use of atmospheric New Orleans locations. But the 1942 movie gets under your skin. There is something subtly alarming about the oddly mannered good-girl behavior of Simone Simon, and the unearthly detachment of Kent Smith as her husband, and the rooms and streets that look not like places but like ideas of places. And something touching about Irena, who has never had a friend, and fears she will kill the only person she loves, and is told she is insane." - Roger Ebert "This is a weird drama of thrill-chill caliber, with developments of surprises confined to psychology and mental reactions, rather than transformation to grotesque and marauding characters for visual impact on the audiences. Picture is well-made on moderate budget outlay...Script, although hazy for the average audience in several instances, carries sufficient punch in the melodramatic sequences to hold it together in good style...[Tourneur] does a fine job with a most difficult assignment." -- Variety "The strangely embarrassing predicament of a lady who finds herself possessed of mystical feline temptations, especially one to claw people to death, is the topic pursued at tedious and graphically unproductive length in RKO's latest little chiller, Cat People...Ladies who have such temptations--in straight horror pictures, at least--should exercise their digits a bit more freely than does Simone Simon in this film. And people who make such pictures should do so much more briskly than they have here. Cat People is a labored and obvious attempt to induce shock. And Miss Simon's cuddly little tabby would barely frighten a mouse under a chair." - The New York Times "The Cat People is a brain-cracking story of a girl who turns cat. It is not quite so horrifying as its makers wanted it to be because Simone Simon does not give people real feline shudders." -- Time Magazine "Storyline and plot elements don't hold up, but moments of shock and terror are undiminished in the first of producer Val Lewton's famous horror films." - Leonard Maltin, All Movie Guide Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

The Val Lewton Collection on DVD


I don't want to sound like a bossy second-grade teacher, but you really are going to have to get The Val Lewton Horror Collection.

It's hardly a perfect collection, especially with all the audio commentaries by film historians who wallow in minutia that gets very tiring very quickly. But these facts are clear: (1) Lewton produced some of the best B-movies ever turned out on low budgets and quickie schedules for a Hollywood studio; and, (2) Some of the set's most noteworthy content is on the two discs available only within the five-disc boxed set.

First, some background. Struggling RKO hired Russian immigrant Lewton, then a story editor at David O. Selznick's studio, to head up a unit that would make low-budget horror movies and challenge Universal's dominance in that genre. RKO would have been happy to release monster movies like Universal's, and the studio imposed monstrous-sounding titles on Lewton's movies before scripts were ever penned. But the resultant stories were much more ambitious than that. Instead of using monsters, Lewton's subtle use of the power of suggestion left much of the terror to the viewer's imagination. By withholding shots of the source of terror in favor of foreboding shadows and sounds, and offering stories that usually took place in a contemporary, realistic setting, Lewton forged a distinctive mix in his RKO chillers. (Though he rarely took a writing credit, and never under his own name, Lewton wrote the final screenplay drafts for his RKO movies.)

Lewton's 1942-46 RKO chillers fall into three groups: the first trio of movies (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man), all directed by Jacques Tourneur; after RKO split up Lewton and Tourneur to spread their talents wider, a mid-section of Lewton movies that often stuck to the style of the Tourneur pictures (The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, The Curse of the Cat People); and, after the so-so financial performance of the straight dramas Mademoiselle Fifi and Youth Runs Wild, the three Lewton productions starring Boris Karloff (Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher and Bedlam).

Because the DVDs include two movies (each averages about only 72 minutes in length), the set often mixes titles from these periods on them:

Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People: Cat People, released in late 1942, is undoubtedly the most important Lewton movie, and this disc is the best place for the uninitiated to start. It set the tone for the rest of his RKO movies and, very importantly, was a big hit. Though the producer was forever stuck with imposed titles and tight budgets, its success gave Lewton a measure of creative control over his stories.

In its tale of the ill-fated marriage between a Serbian immigrant (Simone Simon) and a boat designer (Kent Smith), Cat People blends naturalistic staging and supernatural story as Lewton so often would. Irena, Simon's title character, believes she's descended from a line of women who turn into vengeful felines when sexually or emotionally aroused, so she won't consummate the marriage, which cranks up the sexual tension to levels unheard of in 1940s Hollywood movies, especially when Smith's character turns to the chummy co-worker who loves him (Jane Randolph) for advice. The movie's archetypal moments come when Irena stalks her rival through Central Park, and the extended silence becomes broken by a braking bus that lunges into the picture (a trademark Lewton device he'd often repeat) and when the still-stalked rival gets spooked by shadows and noises as she swims alone in a pool. Paul Schrader remade Cat People in 1982, but the original is the better version.

The Curse of the Cat People, out in 1944, is indicative of how Lewton subverted his RKO bosses' orders. Told to make a Cat People sequel, Curse is instead a very involving, very sensitive portrait of a lonely child. With the Smith and Randolph characters now married, following the death of Irena in the first film, their biggest worry is their daydreaming young daughter Amy (Ann Carter), who sees a picture of Irena and conjures up her image as an imaginary friend. Though lacking the visual lyricism of its predecessor, it's one of Lewton's best. Robert Wise co-directed with Gunther V. Fritsch, the first taking over for the second, who RKO fired for finishing only half the movie during the allotted schedule.

I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher: Another great double feature. The first, made just after Cat People, is more evidence of Tourneur's talent as a visual storyteller. A variation on Jane Eyre transposed to the West Indies, it finds a Canadian nurse (Frances Dee) arriving to her new post in the Caribbean, only to discover her new patient is a catatonic woman once caught in a love triangle between her husband (Tom Conway) and his half-brother (James Ellison), and that the island's native culture is steeped in voodoo. Like Cat People, an eerie chiller that travels far beyond the shocks we associate with horror. Meanwhile, The Body Snatcher is the best of Lewton's three pictures with Karloff (it was the second). Inspired by the Burke-Hare grave-robbing scandal, it's set in 1831 Edinburgh, with its main conflict pitting two former cadaver-stealing allies: a cabman (Karloff) who still digs up graves and a doctor (Henry Daniell) who's graduated to respectability and now only hires people to rob graves. The Body Snatcher, directed by Wise, is a fine example of how Lewton's movies not only avoided monsters, they also avoided outright villains and skillfully mined the moral grey zone.

Isle of the Dead and Bedlam: The first and third Lewton-Karloff collaborations, both also period pieces, are indicative of how Lewton's later RKO movies could be well-crafted, yet not as interesting as intended. The first, about a group of people quarantined on a Greek island during a plague scare, and the second, centered on London's notorious insane asylum of the 18th century, used period paintings and drawing as visual inspiration, so maybe it's not surprising they feel static. They're not bad and they give Karloff roles superior to his usual characters, but they feel flat compared to Lewton's more evocative work.

The Leopard Man and The Ghost Ship: the first of the two discs available only within the set offers two fine movies. The first is Tourneur's rendering of Cornell Woolrich's novel, Black Alibi, about what happens when a deadly black leopard gets loose in a New Mexico town. It's surely more uneven than Tourneur's two previous Lewton movies, yet it has great set pieces, especially when the cat stalks a teen who's been sent to the store by her mother. The Ghost Ship has been one of the most elusive Lewton movies, as it was pulled from release by RKO after a writer filed a plagiarism lawsuit, claiming the movie took elements from a script he had submitted to Lewton's office. Although Lewton never saw that script, RKO lost the case and pulled the movie. As with Curse of the Cat People, made just after it, Ghost Ship comes up with something much better than the mere horror film RKO wanted. Its conflict between the idealistic new third officer (Russell Wade) and the power-mad captain (Richard Dix) on a freighter doesn't just recall The Caine Mutiny, which Herman Wouk hadn't written yet, it also turns into an exploration of authority run amok, an anti-Fascist parable for its wartime audience.

The Seventh Victimand Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy: the second of the boxed-set-only discs contains two essentials. The Seventh Victim,, the first non-Tourneur Lewton movie, directed by Mark Robson in keeping with Tourneur's style, may be the eeriest of the producer's movies. Kim Hunter makes her film debut as a teen who travels to New York City to look for her missing older sister (Jean Brooks), and discovers that her sister became involved with a devil-worshipping cult that now wants her dead. If Lewton's movies stew in the juices of death, grief and loneliness, The Seventh Victim may be his grimmest. It's also his most noir movie, with all of its dangers stemming from human loneliness. A beautiful piece of melancholy.

Running a little under an hour, Shadows in the Dark is literally littered with interview subjects. Do we really need five film historians, four writers and seven directors praising Lewton? An indication of how cluttered it is comes when George A. Romero who, like Lewton, knows a thing or two about movie zombies, is never heard offering his take on Lewton's kind of voodoo-based zombie, much different from Romero's Pittsburgh zombies. Still, this is a good overview of the producer's life and work, and it's hard to argue with any of the praise heaped upon Lewton's movies. They deserve it. Full of family snapshots and home movie footage, as well as the comments of Lewton's son, Val E. Lewton, Shadows of the Dark offers a strong sense of how Lewton's RKO movies reflected his personality: dark, literate, competent.


Most of those film historians in the documentary handle audio commentaries on the set's movies, though there's no commentary for The Ghost Ship, which seemingly has the most interesting "back story." The most worthwhile commentary is definitely the late Robert Wise's, on . It's apparently culled from one long interview with the director, with the interviewer edited out, and it covers all of his movies with Lewton (the others being The Curse of the Cat People and Mademoiselle Fifi).

Wise's first-hand anecdotes are much more interesting than the historians' micro-observations and rabid research, which is often along the lines of "This scene was filmed on October 13, but this insert within it was filmed on November 4." Sorry, stuff like that is just not that interesting. The historians are all well-prepared and speak well, but when I cautiously popped in director William Friedkin's commentary for The Leopard Man—cautiously because Friedkin's The Narrow Margin commentary had some dubious observations — it was really refreshing to hear him say, "Frankly, the movie speaks for itself" in the first minute. Greg Mank's commentaries on Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People also include snippets of his phone interview with the late Simone Simon. For some reason, though, these snippets are often semi-arbitrarily dropped in with no set-up and, like most of the historians commenting, Mank doesn't even open by telling us his qualifications to do a commentary for a Val Lewton movie. When that happens, I just want to ask, "Dude, where's your credibility?"

For more information about The Val Lewton Horror Collection, visit Warner Video. To order The Val Lewton Collection, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

The Val Lewton Collection on DVD

I don't want to sound like a bossy second-grade teacher, but you really are going to have to get The Val Lewton Horror Collection. It's hardly a perfect collection, especially with all the audio commentaries by film historians who wallow in minutia that gets very tiring very quickly. But these facts are clear: (1) Lewton produced some of the best B-movies ever turned out on low budgets and quickie schedules for a Hollywood studio; and, (2) Some of the set's most noteworthy content is on the two discs available only within the five-disc boxed set. First, some background. Struggling RKO hired Russian immigrant Lewton, then a story editor at David O. Selznick's studio, to head up a unit that would make low-budget horror movies and challenge Universal's dominance in that genre. RKO would have been happy to release monster movies like Universal's, and the studio imposed monstrous-sounding titles on Lewton's movies before scripts were ever penned. But the resultant stories were much more ambitious than that. Instead of using monsters, Lewton's subtle use of the power of suggestion left much of the terror to the viewer's imagination. By withholding shots of the source of terror in favor of foreboding shadows and sounds, and offering stories that usually took place in a contemporary, realistic setting, Lewton forged a distinctive mix in his RKO chillers. (Though he rarely took a writing credit, and never under his own name, Lewton wrote the final screenplay drafts for his RKO movies.) Lewton's 1942-46 RKO chillers fall into three groups: the first trio of movies (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man), all directed by Jacques Tourneur; after RKO split up Lewton and Tourneur to spread their talents wider, a mid-section of Lewton movies that often stuck to the style of the Tourneur pictures (The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, The Curse of the Cat People); and, after the so-so financial performance of the straight dramas Mademoiselle Fifi and Youth Runs Wild, the three Lewton productions starring Boris Karloff (Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher and Bedlam). Because the DVDs include two movies (each averages about only 72 minutes in length), the set often mixes titles from these periods on them: Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People: Cat People, released in late 1942, is undoubtedly the most important Lewton movie, and this disc is the best place for the uninitiated to start. It set the tone for the rest of his RKO movies and, very importantly, was a big hit. Though the producer was forever stuck with imposed titles and tight budgets, its success gave Lewton a measure of creative control over his stories. In its tale of the ill-fated marriage between a Serbian immigrant (Simone Simon) and a boat designer (Kent Smith), Cat People blends naturalistic staging and supernatural story as Lewton so often would. Irena, Simon's title character, believes she's descended from a line of women who turn into vengeful felines when sexually or emotionally aroused, so she won't consummate the marriage, which cranks up the sexual tension to levels unheard of in 1940s Hollywood movies, especially when Smith's character turns to the chummy co-worker who loves him (Jane Randolph) for advice. The movie's archetypal moments come when Irena stalks her rival through Central Park, and the extended silence becomes broken by a braking bus that lunges into the picture (a trademark Lewton device he'd often repeat) and when the still-stalked rival gets spooked by shadows and noises as she swims alone in a pool. Paul Schrader remade Cat People in 1982, but the original is the better version. The Curse of the Cat People, out in 1944, is indicative of how Lewton subverted his RKO bosses' orders. Told to make a Cat People sequel, Curse is instead a very involving, very sensitive portrait of a lonely child. With the Smith and Randolph characters now married, following the death of Irena in the first film, their biggest worry is their daydreaming young daughter Amy (Ann Carter), who sees a picture of Irena and conjures up her image as an imaginary friend. Though lacking the visual lyricism of its predecessor, it's one of Lewton's best. Robert Wise co-directed with Gunther V. Fritsch, the first taking over for the second, who RKO fired for finishing only half the movie during the allotted schedule. I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher: Another great double feature. The first, made just after Cat People, is more evidence of Tourneur's talent as a visual storyteller. A variation on Jane Eyre transposed to the West Indies, it finds a Canadian nurse (Frances Dee) arriving to her new post in the Caribbean, only to discover her new patient is a catatonic woman once caught in a love triangle between her husband (Tom Conway) and his half-brother (James Ellison), and that the island's native culture is steeped in voodoo. Like Cat People, an eerie chiller that travels far beyond the shocks we associate with horror. Meanwhile, The Body Snatcher is the best of Lewton's three pictures with Karloff (it was the second). Inspired by the Burke-Hare grave-robbing scandal, it's set in 1831 Edinburgh, with its main conflict pitting two former cadaver-stealing allies: a cabman (Karloff) who still digs up graves and a doctor (Henry Daniell) who's graduated to respectability and now only hires people to rob graves. The Body Snatcher, directed by Wise, is a fine example of how Lewton's movies not only avoided monsters, they also avoided outright villains and skillfully mined the moral grey zone. Isle of the Dead and Bedlam: The first and third Lewton-Karloff collaborations, both also period pieces, are indicative of how Lewton's later RKO movies could be well-crafted, yet not as interesting as intended. The first, about a group of people quarantined on a Greek island during a plague scare, and the second, centered on London's notorious insane asylum of the 18th century, used period paintings and drawing as visual inspiration, so maybe it's not surprising they feel static. They're not bad and they give Karloff roles superior to his usual characters, but they feel flat compared to Lewton's more evocative work. The Leopard Man and The Ghost Ship: the first of the two discs available only within the set offers two fine movies. The first is Tourneur's rendering of Cornell Woolrich's novel, Black Alibi, about what happens when a deadly black leopard gets loose in a New Mexico town. It's surely more uneven than Tourneur's two previous Lewton movies, yet it has great set pieces, especially when the cat stalks a teen who's been sent to the store by her mother. The Ghost Ship has been one of the most elusive Lewton movies, as it was pulled from release by RKO after a writer filed a plagiarism lawsuit, claiming the movie took elements from a script he had submitted to Lewton's office. Although Lewton never saw that script, RKO lost the case and pulled the movie. As with Curse of the Cat People, made just after it, Ghost Ship comes up with something much better than the mere horror film RKO wanted. Its conflict between the idealistic new third officer (Russell Wade) and the power-mad captain (Richard Dix) on a freighter doesn't just recall The Caine Mutiny, which Herman Wouk hadn't written yet, it also turns into an exploration of authority run amok, an anti-Fascist parable for its wartime audience. The Seventh Victimand Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy: the second of the boxed-set-only discs contains two essentials. The Seventh Victim,, the first non-Tourneur Lewton movie, directed by Mark Robson in keeping with Tourneur's style, may be the eeriest of the producer's movies. Kim Hunter makes her film debut as a teen who travels to New York City to look for her missing older sister (Jean Brooks), and discovers that her sister became involved with a devil-worshipping cult that now wants her dead. If Lewton's movies stew in the juices of death, grief and loneliness, The Seventh Victim may be his grimmest. It's also his most noir movie, with all of its dangers stemming from human loneliness. A beautiful piece of melancholy. Running a little under an hour, Shadows in the Dark is literally littered with interview subjects. Do we really need five film historians, four writers and seven directors praising Lewton? An indication of how cluttered it is comes when George A. Romero who, like Lewton, knows a thing or two about movie zombies, is never heard offering his take on Lewton's kind of voodoo-based zombie, much different from Romero's Pittsburgh zombies. Still, this is a good overview of the producer's life and work, and it's hard to argue with any of the praise heaped upon Lewton's movies. They deserve it. Full of family snapshots and home movie footage, as well as the comments of Lewton's son, Val E. Lewton, Shadows of the Dark offers a strong sense of how Lewton's RKO movies reflected his personality: dark, literate, competent. Most of those film historians in the documentary handle audio commentaries on the set's movies, though there's no commentary for The Ghost Ship, which seemingly has the most interesting "back story." The most worthwhile commentary is definitely the late Robert Wise's, on

Quotes

You can fool everybody, but landie dearie me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know who's not right.
- Woman at pet shop
There are some things a woman doesn't want other women to understand.
- Irena Dubrovna

Trivia

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1993.

Original trade reviews appeared Friday the 13 November 1942.

The film was in theaters for so long that critics who had originally bashed the film were able to see it again and many rewrote their reviews with a more positive spin.

When "The Cat Woman" (played, uncredited, by Elizabeth Russell) speaks to Irena in Serbian and calls her "my sister", Russell's dialog is dubbed by Simone Simon.

Notes

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.
       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. Variety 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 July 1942 item places Carl Brisson in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. In August 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 March 18, 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 . In 1982, director Paul Schrader made another version of the story, also titled Cat People, starring Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1983

Released in United States July 1989

Released in United States November 2, 1990

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1942

Shown at Film Forum Summer Festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction in New York City July 22-24, 1989.

Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA November 2, 1990.

Selected in 1993 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A "B-Movie" Marathon) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)

Re-released in United Kingdom October 29, 1999.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1942

Released in United States July 1989 (Shown at Film Forum Summer Festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction in New York City July 22-24, 1989.)

Released in United States November 2, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA November 2, 1990.)