Cat People

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(1942, directed by Jacques Tourneur)

- inducted 2018 –

“The saga starts with a meet-cute by the panther cage. A naval architect chides a petite Serbian immigrant for littering. He’s Oliver (Kent Smith), a self-described ‘good, plain Americano;’ she’s Irena (Simone Simon), a lonely artist haunted by superstition. Following their brief courtship and unconsummated marriage, he’ll be with another woman and she will be dead.

“That, in short, is Cat People. In the annals of horror cinema, it’s most renowned for its rich atmosphere on a low budget. With its frugality (and huge profits), Val Lewton kicked off a fevered 4-year run as producer at RKO. The film’s scenes of Irena stalking her romantic rival after changing into a big cat are justly iconic; cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca sculpts a world of fear out of the delicate shadows. It’s a landmark of expressionistic lighting shot cheap on recycled sets.

“Its darkest magic, however, is Simon’s performance. The French actress plays Irena as both victim and monster, a tangle of tenderness, vulnerability, guilt, and dysphoria. Disquiet lies across her feline countenance and in the folds of her accent. Cat People wasn’t the first or last film to draw terror from a city street by night, but it does stand alone as a dense psychosexual tragedy. DeWitt Bodeen’s screenplay is a braid of digressions and sinister motifs. Through Jacques Tourneur’s direction, it became a masterpiece of desolate beauty.”

~ Alice Stoehr

Principal cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Jack Holt, Dynamite the Panther (uncredited)
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen
Produced by: Val Lewton
Director of photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Art direction by: Albert S. D’Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Costume design by: Reniť
Film editing by: Mark Robson
Original music by: Roy Webb
Sound recordist: John L. Cass
Makeup artist: Mel Berns (uncredited)
Special effects by: Vernon L. Walker (uncredited), Linwood G. Dunn (uncredited)

Duration: 73 min.
Languages: English, Czech, Serbian
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (RCA Sound System)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced and released in USA by RKO Pictures
Premiered in New York City on December 5, 1942

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1993
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 12 March 2006