It seems like more and more fans of classic films are finding the work of director Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton. These two created some excellent horror films for RKO in the 1940s. I didn’t hear much about these for a long time, but a revival seemed to take place in the 2000s where these films were brought back up in conversations. I caught them on a marathon on TCM a few years back and finally picked up four of them for my collection. The first and maybe the most famous is this film from 1942.
Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a recent immigrant from Serbia. She is artistic but quiet and shy, living by herself in an apartment. One day, while she is sketching a black panther at the zoo she meets Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) a handsome young man. The two fall head over heels for each other, even if Irena’s strange superstitions make Oliver chuckle.
But after they marry, Oliver realizes that Irena’s fears have taken over her life. She is convinced that if she feels any strong emotions including hate, jealousy or lust, she will transform into a monstrous black panther and go on a killing spree. Oliver discusses his problems with his coworker, Alice (Jane Randolph) who recommends a Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) as a therapist for Irena. As the three attempt to work with Irena she falls further and further into a paranoia fugue state. But is the shadow stalking Alice really a panther? If so, is it an escapee from the zoo, or is Irena really one of the Cat People?
- Simone Simon’s performance sells the whole film
- Builds tension and dread with style
- Keeps you guessing as to what is actually happening
- May be too heavy on conversation for some viewers
- Looking non stop thrills and action – keep looking
- If you aren’t a fan of atmospheric horror – keep looking
This movie does a fine job of creating a fascinating character with Irena and following her journey into darkness. Simone Simon’s performance is excellent and you end up caring about and fearing for her. All along the way the other characters try to help but their actions only seem to make things worse. It does a fine job of building to its conclusion. A really well made classic horror film.
Scores (out of 5)
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