Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1942. RKO Radio Pictures. Screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen. Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca. Produced by Val Lewton. Music by Roy Webb. Production Design by Albert S. D’Agostino, Walter E. Keller. Costume Design by Renie. Film Editing by Mark Robson.
A naval construction engineer (Kent Smith) espies a gorgeous gal (Simone Simon) drawing sketches outside the leopard pavilion at the zoo and immediately plays man on the make, offering his company and walking her home. She tells him that she is new to America from Serbia and is happy to keep seeing him, and eventually they fall in love and get married. Held off from getting intimate right away, Smith is told a bunch of stories about Simon’s homeland, of kings killing evil humans believed to have the power to transform into cats, and he only has so much patience for her terrifying tales before being driven into the arms of Alice Moore (Jane Randolph). Alice, his colleague at work, isn’t afraid to admit she loves him too, but first she must contend with the sounds of growling she hears at night when she’s walking home alone. This delicious horror film has had no end of influence on movies to follow, imbued with many richly spooky moments brought to life by vivid cinematography and committed performances, the best of them a terrifying sequence involving Randolph in a swimming pool. There’s a sense of immoral pleasure in the air, the theme of people turning into cats when their sexuality or jealousy is aroused is impossible to resist, almost more potent here in its repressed presentation than it is in the more explicit Paul Schrader remake. Simon makes for a bewitching heroine, and Jacques Tourneur directs with no end of style.