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Jacques Tourneur
Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Jack Holt
Writing Credits:
DeWitt Bodeen

An American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland's fables if they are intimate together.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Mono

Runtime: 73 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/20/2016

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank
• “Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows” Documentary
• “Cine regards” Broadcast
• Interview with Cinematographer John Bailey
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Cat People: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 7, 2016)

Though the most famous classic horror movies came from Universal Studios, others got into the act as well. 1942’s Cat People provides a legendary flick from RKO.

Serbian sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) comes to Manhattan for work. While there, she meets engineer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) – the two fall in love and marry.

This comes despite Irena’s personal misgivings. Though she loves Kent, she believes folk stories that indicate she may turn into a cat-like creature if she becomes too close to a man. We follow these events and how they impact Irena and Kent.

Frankly, any synopsis of Cat People makes it sound like a terrible movie. The plot hints at clumsy psychosexual allusions amd just seems silly. If I didn’t know Cat People stood in such high critical regard, nothing about its story would entice me to see it.

Given the film’s acclaim, I go into it with the opposite view. Despite the seemingly inane plot, Cat People comes with so much praise that I expect greatness from it.

After my viewing of Cat People, my opinion falls between the two poles I mentioned, though firmly on the positive side. While I don’t know if the film merits its lavish plaudits, I think it works pretty well and overcomes the story’s potential drawbacks.

Viewers accustomed to the lack of subtlety found in modern horror may find themselves put off by Cat People, as it offers a radically quieter, more open-ended affair than we usually get these days. Very few 21st century genre flicks would keep matters as restrained and vague as Cat People, for we get a movie that walks a fine line between the supernatural and the real world.

Oh, plenty of movies pay lip service to various interpretations, but these almost always tip their hands. While movies like Conjuring 2 want us to think they can be viewed from both paranormal and “real world” perspectives, they tend to heavily lean toward the fantasy side of things. These movies nod toward the skeptics but push the supernatural view in a much more obvious manner.

This doesn’t occur during the psychologically-oriented Cat People. With faith in the underlying motifs, the film doesn’t shove ham-handed scare scenes at us. Instead, it builds characters and themes slowly and in depth, and it doesn’t betray its gradual build with obvious jolts meant to satiate impatient viewers.

These factors may make Cat People a smidgen slow at times, but I think the pacing mostly works well, as these factors allow the film to develop and get under the audience’s skin. Even when the movie finally goes for real terror, it remains understated and open for interpretation. As one beaten down by the obviousness and predictability of modern horror, I embrace these techniques.

Cat People also knows better than to overstate its welcome. At a tight 72 minutes, the movie comes with little flab – it develops matters well but doesn’t waste our time with unnecessary beats or conceits.

So what keeps Cat People from greatness? The acting, honestly. While the movie moves well and looks great – with moody, atmosphere-involving photography – the actors seem less than convincing in their parts. None of them fare poorly, but they tend to feel a bit stiff.

That minor complaint aside, Cat People offers a pretty solid piece of vintage horror. It allows events to develop in a gradual manner and doesn’t force cheesy stabs at terror on us, factors that make it effective and enjoyable.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Cat People appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The transfer represented the movie well.

Sharpness was fairly positive. At times the movie came across as a bit soft and ill-defined, but not with great frequency. The majority of the flick seemed accurate and concise. No problems with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and no edge haloes occurred.

In terms of print flaws, Cat People looked pretty clean. The image could be grainier than average but no specks or marks appeared. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows came across as clear and smooth. Contrast seemed well-represented. Overall, this was a satisfying transfer.

I also felt pleased with the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Cat People. Speech came across as slightly tinny but the lines were acceptably natural, and they seemed crisp and without edginess. Music was restricted to a degree, as I expected given the vintage of the track. Nonetheless, the score was clear and reasonably tight.

Effects fell into the same category. Those elements were acceptably accurate, though they also lacked much dimensionality. Only minor background noise ever appeared. For a flick from 1942, this was a good track.

As we head to extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Gregory Mank. Recorded in 2005, he offers a running, screen-specific discussion of cast/crew and aspects of the production. We also get a handful of archival interview remarks from actor Simone Simon.

Mank covers the topics one expects from a historian commentary, and he does so well - most of the time. He remains enthusiastic about the movie as he delves into a good mix of subjects. Despite an occasional tendency to narrate the movie, Mank brings us a strong examination of the film.

A 2008 documentary, Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows runs one hour, 16 minutes and 40 seconds. Narrated by Martin Scorsese, it involves comments from Lewton’s son Val E. Lewton, Icons of Grief author Alexander Nemerov, filmmakers Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Robert Wise and Roger Corman, Psychiatry and the Cinema author Dr. Glen Gabbard, director Jacques Tourneur, The Phantom Empire author Geoffrey O’Brien, and actor Ann Carter Newton.

As expected, “Shadows” provides a basic biography of producer Val Lewton as well as a look at his films. This becomes more introspective than most overviews of this sort, as “Shadows” delves into themes and meaning of the films. On the negative side, we get an awful lot of movie clips, and these take away from the information value. Nonetheless, “Shadows” provides a largely effective examination of Lewton’s life and career.

With Cine regards, we get a 1977 interview with director Jacques Tourner. It lasts 26 minutes, 37 seconds and looks at Tourneur’s life and career as well as his thoughts about filmmaking. Tourneur provides a nice discussion of these areas – and proves charmingly modest when he describes himself as an “average director”.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get an interview with cinematographer John Bailey. This chat goes for 16 minutes, 36 seconds and offers a look at visual styles in Cat People. Bailey worked as DP for the 1982 remake, so his perspective proves to be engaging and insightful.

The set concludes with a fold-out booklet. One side offers a poster while the other presents an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien. It becomes a satisfying addition.

Though I’m not sure it belongs among the all-time great horror flicks, Cat People stands as a memorable affair. I appreciate its subtlety and think it creates a good sense of dread and understated fear. The Blu-ray provides generally positive picture and audio along with a fairly effective set of supplements. Classic horror fans should enjoy this involving effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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