Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cat People (Tourneur. 1942)

"You can fool everybody, but laudie dearie me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know who's not right."


What kind of film can you consider a cult classic? I have already written about the most famous cult film ever made, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that does not mean that the 1077 Films to See Before You Die would exclude the rest of this classic genre. One of the most famous cult films in history, Cat People is a film that sets the boundaries between drama, comedy and horror film. It is a classic RKO picture that has captured the hearts of cult fans around the world.

Cat People tells the story of Serbian immigrant named Irena Dubrovna. Thanks to Serbian legend, Irena believes that she will turn into a cat-human killer if she ever becomes intimate with her new husband, Oliver Reed. Irena, played by the breathtakingly gorgeous Simone Simon, is a beautiful and naive young woman. She is afraid of the curses that her country has left her with, but she is still in love with Oliver. The problem is that Oliver has been patient enough. He wants to kiss his wife. Why can he not kiss his newly married wife? We have to watch the whole movie to find out.

This is the fundamental flaw behind Cat People. Though it is only a little over an hour long, this film is very slow from the start. It takes almost a full hour to make the audience care about anyone besides Irena. The plot is pushed in almost every single line of dialogue, but the action never seems to match up. It is like waiting for Jack to come out of his box, but he never does. You are left on the couch just turning the crank.

But this was the trend with a lot of classic RKO pictures. They built up the drama with campy acting and silly presentations. For 1942, Cat People is surprisingly thin when it comes to camp. Simone Simon is very gentle in her portrayal of the troubled immigrant. She is very easy to sympathize with and, most importantly, she is easy to believe. We are on her side for the whole production. It is a fine example of B-movie character development.

Here is what I am forced to wonder: did Tourneur and the crew mean to make a B-movie? There is a certain underlying feeling throughout Cat People that screams to be taken seriously. Maybe it is the performances that make this happen. Maybe it is the dark, yet comical, themes presented throughout that manage to stick with you. This is a confusing picture because you can almost see the actors wasting its potential with simple deliveries of emotional lines. But isn't that what makes a B-movie so fun to watch?

If anything, Cat People has a very entertaining climax. Though the film is slow to the point of making you sleepy, its ending is enough to save the experience. To me, Cat People seems like a film I will reserve for popcorn date night. It is fun, light and short. But it is also exhausting. This cinematic oxymoron is simply made for the right people in the right mood. And if you can get into the right mood - you cannot go wrong with this film. I liked it a great deal, but I wish that it had more to offer.

Cat People: C+

My Next Film...Rushmore (Anderson. 1998)

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