Cat People follows the story of Irena, an attractive young Serbian lady who believes that she has a curse that will make her transform into a panther when her emotions run high (particularly sexual arousal). She meets a handsome man, Oliver, at a zoo. The two of them end up getting married but Irena says she cannot be a proper wife to him else she would transform and kill him. Not long after this Oliver sends her to psychiatrist Dr Judd whilst Oliver finds that he loves his work colleague Alice. Oliver tells Irena that he no longer loves her, Irena gets jealous and angry and proceeds to stalk Alice as a panther. The film climaxes with Irena taking the life of Dr Judd and later herself by releasing a captive panther which kills her
I have to start off by saying that with a few exceptions I could not understand what Simone Simon’s character Irena was saying in the beginning of the film.
Anyhow, Cat People strikes me as being a film about three main themes. Sexual appetite, the fear of sex and the social exclusion of foreigners. Irena’s character is portrayed as quite sexual, yet afraid of any sexual encounter, she admits that she likes to be alone and that Oliver is her first friend in America. Irena is very forward, inviting Oliver home for tea despite only having know each other for a brief time. Very soon they marry, Irena says that she really wants to fulfil her role as Oliver’s wife i.e. to consummate the marriage but is afraid of what will happen. She deeply wants but at the same time is too afraid to have any intimate relationship with Oliver. In fact there is a heart tugging scene where Irene is in her bedroom leaning against the door with Oliver on the other side, just as Irene is about to touch the handle a panther screams in the background (Irena’s house backs onto the zoo) and she withdraws into herself, alone still.
Oliver dismisses Irena’s beliefs as mere superstition and attempts to dismiss them and encourages her to visit a psychologist, Dr Judd who despite trying doesn’t prove much help to her. Oliver comes to love his co-worker Alice, who admits to loving him. Irena catches this and begins stalking Alice
Jeffery Anderson describes the bus scene in his review at Combustible Celluloid “Lewton and Tourneur give us evidence of a cat--or something catlike in motion--lurking just around corners. But they show us nothing concrete. In one scene, a woman is walking along a dark sidewalk. She hears rustling and fears something is out there. From out of nowhere a bus pulls up between her and the audience, letting out a loud and sudden squeal from its breaks. It's the one time Lewton allowed himself an easy scare, but the scene is eerily effective” and effective it is, the tension builds up all the while Irena is following Alice with the click from Irena’s heels keeping time with the sound track until BANG theres a bus!
A reviewer from Timeout.com said “with a superbly judged performance from Simon as the young wife ambivalently haunted by sexual frigidity and by a fear that she is metamorphosing into a panther” and I agree wholeheartedly, despite no being able to understand her at the beginning!
I think it’s very hard nowadays to find a film that doesn’t show everything and instead relies entirely on the idea that something is or can happen and would have to agree with this conclusion at Film4 “Famously making a virtue of its limitations, the film features no actors in cat-suits, no explicit special effects, just terror in the shadows.”