Friday, September 25, 2015
Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)
Cat People is so fraught with subtext about the fear of female sexuality that it's amazing that critics once treated it as a mere "horror movie," while admitting that it was an effective one. Starting with the image drawn by Irena (Simone Simon) of a panther impaled on a sword, which is a version of the even more phallocentric statue in her apartment, it's clear that Tourneur, screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, and producer Val Lewton have more on their minds (or subsconsciousnesses) than just spooking the audience. But then subtext was about the only way filmmakers could get away with sex under the Production Code, even when the point is that Irena and her husband (Kent Smith) are not having sex because she's afraid she'll rip him to shreds if they so much as kiss. I'm not a big fan of the horror films produced by Lewton, one of the few producer-auteurs, partly because they're more fun to talk about than to watch. The casting of such vapid actors as Kent Smith doesn't help.