Cat People

Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)

Cat People is so brilliantly made, often so well-acted, it's surprisingly those elements can't make up for its narrative issues. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby has a big problem–he's got to turn his protagonist from a victim to a villain to a victim. Sadly, he and director Schrader choose to employ the lamest technique possible towards the end of the second act… a revelatory, expository (if nicely stylized) dream sequence. With the Giorgio Moroder score, it seems like a really cool looking music video.

Shame it derails the narrative and People never fully recovers. Some of the final scenes' dialogue is really lame.

But there's so much good, starting with Schrader. He has a few directorial approaches he uses repeatedly throughout the film. First is the way he shoots eyes–his actors appear to stare into the camera (or just to the right of it). It makes the viewer feel like a voyeur. Schrader repeats that theme throughout the film. He's showing these personal moments, which requires excellent acting from his cast. Even Malcolm McDowell, who's playing an extraordinary creep, gets these little moments.

In the lead, Nastassja Kinski is mostly excellent. Once the film loses its rhythm, she's in trouble, but she still remains sympathetic. John Heard's good as her paramour. Annette O'Toole's excellent as the other woman. Ruby Dee and Ed Begley Jr. are great in small parts.

Cat People succeeds because of Schrader's attention to detail. Despite the story problems, a lot of the film is flawless.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Schrader; screenplay by Alan Ormsby, based on a story by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Jacqueline Cambas, Jere Huggins and Ned Humphreys; music by Giorgio Moroder; produced by Charles W. Fries; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Nastassja Kinski (Irena Gallier), Malcolm McDowell (Paul Gallier), John Heard (Oliver Yates), Annette O’Toole (Alice Perrin), Ruby Dee (Female), Ed Begley Jr. (Joe Creigh) and Scott Paulin (Bill Searle).


Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

How to describe Cat People….

When a swell, blond American (Kent Smith) meets a dark (but not too dark) Eastern European woman (Simone Simon), she rouses all sorts of non-apple pie passions in him. Being a swell guy, he pressures her into marrying him–she’s clearly emotionally disturbed, but it’s okay… Smith hires her a great psychiatrist (Tom Conway) who eventually tries to rape her.

I’m not making up the passions part by the way–the scene where Smith tries explaining it all to other woman Jane Randolph is painful. Smith’s terrible.

That above synopsis pretty much gets at Cat People‘s core story. Beware the foreigner. Randolph’s a much better match for Smith anyway. She’s a hard worker, not some kind of artist.

Sadly, the film’s got a lot of great things about it. DeWitt Bodeen’s mildly xenophobic screenplay still has some amazing scenes in it… though most of them come at the beginning when Simon’s still the protagonist. There’s later an odd shift of focus to Smith and Randolph. Actually, mostly Randolph so she can be the damsel in distress.

Tourneur’s direction is startling, particularly in those high suspense scenes; it’s excellent work. Some of Cat People‘s shots are singular. Simon’s great, Conway’s great (it’s interesting to see him ooze the charm in equal parts with the slime), Randolph’s pretty good (just wholly unlikable).

Fantastic Nicholas Musuraca photography and Mark Robson editing round out Cat People.

Given its many–occasionally extraordinary–successes, it’s a shame Bodeen’s plot flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Doc Carver), Alec Craig (Zookeeper) and Jack Holt (The Commodore).


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