Cat People: A Mother of the Void Review

This week the Void has assigned me 1942’s “Cat People.” I am going to try not to read too much into the fact this film, at its core, is about sexual repression. If you need an introduction, check out my last review on The Black Cat.

Cat People: Irena and Oliver’s Introduction

CAT PEOPLE (1942) | One Perfect Shot Database

The film opens in New York City’s Central Park Zoo where an attractive young woman is unsuccessfully trying to sketch the panthers. With disgust at her efforts, she rips a page from her notebook and attempts a 3 pointer at the trash can across the way. An equally attractive young man is standing beside the trash receptacle at a food cart. He picks up the discarded attempt and point to a sign that reads, “Let know one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came.” He succeeds in gently throwing the paper into the can, garnering an approving nod from the artist.

Oliver, a young ship’s engineer, designing not running, sees this as his in to approach Irena. She disagrees with him that she is an artist, she works in the fashion industry and a sketch drawer. Irena rips and throws her latest attempt to the ground, prompting Oliver to quote the littering condemnation again. Irena ignores his flirtation and begins to put away her supplies, readying herself to leave. They engage in unheard small talk, as they leave the area. Irena’s discarded sketch blows in the wind and turns to reveal a crude drawing of a leopard impaled by a sword. Now to all you young men out there, let this be a lesson, just because a woman has pretty face, that doesn’t mean she is not a littering, wanna be animal abuser. Just saying…

Oliver and Irena walk towards her apartment, where she reveals she is from Serbia. He asks her to spell her name for him and coyishly replies, “Are you going to write me a letter?” Oliver says he would and in the letter, he would invite her to tea. Irena side eyes him and playfully shakes her head no. They arrive at Irena’s house, where she brazenly invites him up to her apartment for tea. Don’t forget that this is 1942, and this litterbug has invited a man she just met up to her apartment alone. She is dangerous I tell you! How dare she?! Upon Irena asking him for tea, Oliver replies, “You make life so simple.” I can only imagine what the audience at this time must have been thinking.

My first thought was, what is another word for simple? EASY! Did he just call her easy? Well I can only assume that a woman who did such a thing in this time period would have been thought of as that. Oliver begins to follow Irena up the stairs where he stops for a moment to say, “You know, I never cease to marvel at what lies behind a brownstone front.” Good thing to remember….that whole book and cover thing. Irena admits that she has never had anyone in her apartment, and then immediately put poor Oliver in the “Friend Zone.” After letting Oliver into her apartment, he make a satisfied sound as he breaths in deep. Irena identified the pleasing smell at Lilage, her perfume. Oliver describes the scent at “alive”…can you say pheromones?! It appears that Oliver will not be in the FZ for very long. 

Publicity stills of the original Cat People!

Irena and the Cats and Alice’s Introduction

To show the passage of time, the apartment is now dark, and Oliver has made himself at home, laying on Irena’s couch as she leans up against the wall softly humming. The loud sound of roaring interrupts her song. Irena explains that this is the lions for the zoo. She says that she finds this sound comforting, like the ocean. Some nights, she state a different sound creeps in. That of the panther, which sounds like a woman screaming, which she does not like. Oliver lights a cigarette, in which its glow shows how dark it has become. She turns on the light and shares how she loves the dark.  As Irena clears the tea service, Oliver notices a statue on a table. Irena identifies it as King John, and of course, in Oliver’s eyes, there is only one King John, the English King.

She corrects his with a laugh and tells the story of the Serbian King John, and how he save the people from the “Evil Ways” to which they had fallen. Irena explains how the Mamelukes came to Serbia and made the people slaves. The slave were first “good and worshipped God in a true Christian way.” Slowly the people changes, and in her village, when the Serbian’s were liberated by King John, he found that the people were bowing down to Satan. They had become evil. King John killed all but the “wisest and most wicked” were killed. The worst of the worst escaped into the mountains. Unsure of how this pertains to Irena, Oliver presses further. Irena, head tilted downward in shame, explains that the legends of these wicked one haunt where is was born.

The clock strikes six and Oliver realizes he has stayed too long. He askes to see Irena the next day for dinner. Here we see Oliver, descending the stairs, and out of the friend zone, as he continues to stop and look up at Irena who is playfully smiling at him as she leans over the balcony. 

Now we are at Oliver’s work, where we see men looking over blue print. The sound of a small meow, can be heard, and Alice, one of two women seen in the scene (the other is a receptionist, way in the background), goes to Oliver’s desk where he has a kitten in a box. Alice fawns over the sweet little Siamese cat, and he says he bought her for a friend. Alice enquires about this friend and if she knows her. Oliver says she doesn’t but she will like her. Alice says, cheerfully, but with a slightly tight jaw, “Well if you like her, then she will be alright with me.” I see you Alice, and have been there plenty of times in my life. Talk about being friend zoned. 

Oliver is shown outside Irena’s door, box under his arm and his coat showing signs of a downpour. He rings the door bell and happily shows Irena her present. Irena is obviously not pleased, and the kitten is hissing and terrified. She states that cats don’t like her, while Oliver doesn’t listen, and only goes on to share how great Alice and the kitten got along. Irena repeats her declaration about cats, and asks if they could take it back to the pet store and exchange it for another animal.

The two of them go to the pet store in the rain, and upon entering the store, all the animals start to freak out and create so much noise that the two of them and the store owner have to go outside to hear each other. Irena states she would rather stay outside, while Oliver goes in and picks out a canary. The store owner goes on to explain how the animals can tell when someone is not a good person, especially cats. Oliver, plays with the kittens and ignores the woman’s observations. Irena approves of the canary from the window. 

The wedding and its lack of copulation

We now see Oliver asleep on the couch at Irena’s apartment, while she sits on the floor beside him, the fire reflecting off of their faces. Oliver wakes up and asks Irena if she loves him, and she affirms, not with a yes, but an mhm. Oliver confesses his love for her, but he wonders at the fact that he has never kissed her.  Irena confesses that she has dreaded this upcoming conversation. She tried to stay away from love and never meant to love him. Oliver, in his very American way states that she has nothing to be afraid of, that she is in America now, and she is normal because she loves a normal American like him. He gives her a very half assed proposal, and they embrace, with Oliver softly resting his lips on the back of her head. 

Cat People (1942 film) - Wikipedia

Well despite never kissing, and I wonder how they got around that during the whole, “You may now kiss the bride” business in the ceremony, we are at Oliver and Irena’s reception. Of course nothing says wedding reception like three cooked cow heads in the window of the only Serbian restaurant in the area. How romantic.  Watch out Void, when the day comes for your wedding, I have a theme in mind. Irena and Oliver are surrounded by Oliver’s coworkers. The Commodore, Oliver’s boss, leans in towards Alice, who is sitting next to Irena, remarking to her about the bride’s beauty but he hears she is a bit “odd”. Alice, the ever loyal friend of Oliver, defends his choice in bride and is optimistic about their future.

The Commodore then stand and raises his glass to toast the bride, (thanks to Hamilton, every time I hears someone say , “To the Bride”, I start singing to myself…). The commotion of the toast draws the attention of a beautiful woman who is seated across the restaurant. The pervy Commodore, as I wrote in my notes, sees her and comments on how she is “something.”, and Doc, their coworker, remarks she looks like a cat. As Irena is thanking Alice for putting together the party, the mysterious woman walks up to the party’s table and greats Irena in Serbian as “Sister”, causing Irena much distress. Oliver just laughs it off. 

As Oliver and Irena are dropped off outside their apartment, Irena tells Oliver that she is going to beg him to be “kind and patient”, when it comes to being intimate. I mean it was 1942, and they didn’t come right out and say that, but we get the idea. Oliver assures her that he will give her all the time she needs. I found myself rolling my eyes at this and scoffing. Sure, he will. Between this and last week’s movie, I am beginning to think not a lot of action happened during the honeymoons of the 30’s and 40’s. 

The newly married couple go into their apartment, with Irena in her bedroom behind a closed door and Oliver on the other side. He tells her goodnight, as she slowing falls to her knees. Her resolved falters as she tentatively reaches for the doorknob, but the menacing sound of a cat yowling,  causes her to pull her hand back. They sadly tell each other goodnight and it fades to black. 

Madness Behind the Beauty

We next see Irena a month later, at the panther’s cage, visiting the zookeeper. He makes the observation that no one who is happy comes to see the panther. Irena remarks on his beauty and the keeper, rebukes her, stating he isn’t beautiful, he is evil. He then quotes Revelations, where it is states the worst beast is like unto a leopard. “Like a leopard, but not a leopard. I guess that fits this feller,” and Irena sadly agrees. 

Irena is working in her office, and the imagery sets up a beautiful scene and metaphor. She has a painted screen of a panther behind her easel where she is working. The reflection of the bird cage Oliver gave her surrounds the panther’s head. It is a wonderful representation of Irena being caged up. Who she truly is, locked away. Irena wants to hold the canary. However, when she tries to catch him in its cage, she frightens it to death. The deep sadness on her face is heartbreaking, but it is also apparent that it is nothing new to her.

CAT PEOPLE (1942, Dir. Jacques Tourneur) – Booker's Guides

She gently places it in a box and goes for a walk to the panther’s cage. Then she THROWS THE DEAD BIRD INTO ITS CAGE! I know there were no signs stating don’t feed the animals, but just because a sign is not there, doesn’t mean it is right. But what do you expect for a person who won’t even follow eloquent signs about not littering?

Later that evening, Oliver teases Irena about mourning the bird. She explains to him that it is more than that. That she is jealous of other women. Women who can live full and happy lives with their husbands. Oliver remains dismissive of her feelings. He admits that he has been trying to “kid her out of it”, these ideas she has about her past and herself. He convinces her that she needs to see a psychiatrist, and she readily agrees. 

We see Irena under hypnosis, talking about the evil that is in her. Upon waking, she states she knows nothing, but Dr. Judd, assures her he has everything written down. He lays all her fears out, and basically says, this will be a piece of cake, and she just has daddy issues that steam from her childhood. He tells her not to worry, and she is to tell her husband nothing. Irena returns home and finds Oliver and Alice on the couch. It is revealed that Alice is the one that recommended Dr. Judd to Oliver and that he had told Alice everything. Irena shows visible betrayal and dismisses Alice despite her apology. Oliver defends confiding in Alice and calls her a “good egg”, who understands anything. Irena replies, “There are somethings that a woman doesn’t want other women to understand.”

Irena retreats to bed, and wakes to what could almost be a siren’s call from the panther. She goes to his cage and their pacing matches each other. When she returns home, Oliver is waiting for her in the lobby. He again apologizes for betraying her trust. She gives him a warning to keep her happy, because that is what keeps what is inside her locked away and harmless. He tells her he would do basically anything to make her happy. Anyway……

Alice and Oliver v. Irena

More time passes and Oliver is a few more months into his sexless marriage. He and Alice are working on plans for a ship. Alice points out that Oliver keeps giving her wrong figures and that they should take a break. She asks him if anything is wrong, and he keeps his word to his wife and says no. Then Alice astutely remarks, “It must be marriage.” Well, this opens up the flood gates.

Oliver confides his worry about Irena and that he ran into Dr. Judd who confirmed she hadn’t been back to see him since the first time she came to his office. This ladies and gentlemen is why we now have HIPPA laws!  Alice shares her confusion, since Irena wanted to be cured so badly. Alice acknowledges that this must make Oliver very unhappy. He then goes on a small monologue of how he had never been unhappy before in his life, and then he got married. This causes Alice to start crying, catching Oliver by surprise.

He pulls her behinds some filing cabinets, where Alice admits she can’t bare to see him unhappy because she loves him. She apologizes for her confession and acknowledges that Oliver loves Irena. He replies, “I don’t know.” He admits that he doesn’t know what love is and he has no idea if he is really in love with Irena or not. Well Alice see this opportunity to give ole Ollie a lesson on love. She explains that what the two of them have is love. Alice sees her shot and she takes it.  She plants a seed in his head that there is something better for him, waiting, standing right in front of him. Opportunistic bitch!  Oh, sorry, did I say that out loud.

We find Irena back at the panther cage, where the zoo keeper has left the key in the lock of the cage. She returns it to him, where it is established that he forgets it often. She is then greeted by Dr. Judd, who has sought her out to enquire why she missed her appointment. Irena states that she doesn’t believe he an help her because she feel the Doctor thinks it is her mind , not her soul that is troubled, and the two are not the same thing. She dismisses him and leaves. We next find the unhappy couple in their apartment, where Oliver verbalizes his worry about their relationship.

BAM | Cat People (1942)

Irena says she loves him, but he doesn’t return the sentiment, he just states he feels they are drifting apart. He confronts Irena about not going back to Dr Judd, and lets it slip that he confided in Alice. This sends Irena into a quiet rage, and the ‘Fuuuuucccckk’ look on Oliver’s face is almost comical. He tells her he did promise they would not fight and they need to calm down. As we all know that is exactly what you say to your wife after you admit that you are confiding in another woman she specifically asked you not to. We all know that “calm down” is part of every woman’s love language.

They then quickly retreats to the office, with no reply from her. When he arrives at the office her tells the cleaning lady he is going to a restaurant around the corner. It is here the waitress, who is a woman of color, has on a very unfortunate uniform. Lets all just sigh, shake our heads and remember what idiots society was in the past. We cut to Alice, working alone in the office. The phone rings, and she picks it up, but there is no answer. When she hangs up, it shows that Irena was on the other side of the line. Now even the most level headed person would be seeing red. Not to mention someone who believe they turn into a panther when provoked to jealousy, lust or rage. Nice kitty!

Alice bids adieu and other horror history In Cat People

Alice turns off her light table. As she leaves the building, the cleaning lady tells her that Oliver is at the diner around the corner. She joins Oliver at his table. Irena, who is walking in the neighborhood, sees the two of them through the window of the diner. What she doesn’t see is Alice telling Oliver he needs to solve his own problems and encourages him to go home and make up with his wife. Oliver calls her “swell” and Alice delivers my favorite line in the film, “That’s what makes me dangerous. I am the new type of other woman.”  Irena retreats as the two exit the diner and Oliver asks Alice if she is cold, to which she replies, “ A cat just walked over my grave.”  Oliver offers to walk her home, but she declines, stating she is a “big girl now” and goes on alone.

Val Lewton's, CAT PEOPLE – Once upon a screen…

What follows in the most famous scene from the film as well as in horror movie history. Alice is walking along the sidewalk, crossing under streetlamps as she goes. We hear the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete and the sound of Irena’s echoing behind. The sound of the companion footfalls is not what startles Alice, it the sudden lack of them that causes her alarm. She starts to look over her shoulder, hurrying down the street faster. She stops under a streetlight as a growl is heard. It is quickly followed by the sound of a bus pulling up in front of Alice. This is said to be the first jump scare in horror movie history. We expect one thing to happen and something else happens, seemingly out of nowhere. 

Tragedy Has Struck

Two whole pages went MIA. Sorry guys. However, I really enjoyed this movie and cannot recommend it more. It truly is classic horror.

Conclusion on cat People by the Void

Well, it seems as if the Mother of the Void enjoyed Cat People quite a bit, it was fun to find an older horror that I had seen and she hadn’t. I promise nothing rude/call-out-y from the subtext, just thought you would find it interesting, especially having Irena as a tragic character. The next one Mother of the Void will be doing is the classic 1960 film Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), a very interesting, very French horror drama. I’m very excited to read her review/summary of that one. Anyways, come back this Friday for the second installment of the 31 Days of Horror, paired with food, drinks and double features. We look forward to seeing you later on The Void of Celluloid.

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