The first director Val Lewton hired for his RKO unit was Jacques Tourneur, and the first picture made by that unit was Cat People, an original screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen.
When Tourneur’s father, Maurice, returned to Paris after a number of years in America, Jacques had gone with him, working as assistant director and editor for his father. In 1933, he made a few directorial solos in the French language and then returned to Hollywood, where he became an assistant director at MGM. It was at this time that he first met Val Lewton, and the two young men worked as special unit directors for Jack Conway on A Tale of Two Cities ; it was Lewton and Tourneur who staged the storming of the Bastille sequence for that film.
Tourneur remained at MGM, directing over 20 short subjects, and Lewton eventually went on to become David O. Selznick’s story editor. When Lewton left Selznick to head his own production unit at RKO, he had already made up his mind that Tourneur would direct his… read more
There are not that many spy films where you can feel the wind in the trees. Tourneur once again transforms an opportunist product into a world of his own, a world gradually infused with sfumato-like vague outlines, various mute effects, and swarming offscreen horror bluntly finding its way to the frame. That part in Römer = a Trümmerwachtraum (?) of aimless walks worthy of Rossellini. Tourneur = King of detumescence.
As to be expected from an RKO Picture it looks gorgeous in black and white, pushing its patronising propagandist roots into an intercontinental film noir where the bombed out German streets are drenched in shadows. Sadly, as the intrusive narration shows, this couldn't escape the propaganda – even in the context of the time, a far more thoughtful and less grating take on the aftermath of WWII could have been taken.