Are you a cat person or a dog person? I’m more of a dog person myself. But this movie isn’t about that. Like Dracula’s Daughter, Cat People features a woman protagonist who has an evil and dangerous streak.
This celebrated 1942 RKO studios film was directed by Jacques Tourner (I Walked With A Zombie and Night of the Demon for Columbia Pictures). The camera angles and lighting in Mr. Tourneur’s films give them an evocative, moody and mysterious quality. The plot is about a young woman, Irina (played by Simone Simon), who believes she is cursed to shapeshift into a beautiful but homicidal black panther whenever she becomes sexually excited. Newly wed, she refuses to have sex with her husband for this reason. She seeks the help of a psychiatrist and spends afternoons visiting a panther in the zoo. But when a woman appears to show interest in her husband, she begins to show her claws.
One author opines that maybe she doesn’t transform at all, noting that you never actually see her turn into a panther. Maybe she has a mental illness and believes she does. Or maybe she is sexually repressed and cannot bring herself to meet the realities of marriage. These are interesting ideas!
Other themes explored in this movie include the nature of romantic love, superstition, violence, religious devotion, sexual jealousy and power.
You can watch this classic movie on YouTube.