Dr. John Holden ventures to London to attend a paranormal psychology symposium with the intention to expose devil cult leader, Julian Karswell. Holden is a skeptic and does not believe in Karswell’s power. Nonetheless, he accepts an invitation to stay at Karswell’s estate, along with Joanna Harrington, niece of Holden’s confidant who was electrocuted in a bizarre automobile accident. Karswell secretly slips a parchment into Holden’s papers that might possibly be a death curse. Recurring strange events finally strike fear into Holden, who believes that his only hope is to pass the parchment back to Karswell to break the demonic curse. —IMDb
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
One must dispense with the obvious first: the creature/ Chris Fujiwara already argued why the appearance of the demon is necessary. It informs the entire philosophy of the film. This is one of the profound films. It is a man denying the unknown, denying fear, denying doubt, and ultimately, critically, denying mortality. This is one of the grand Tourneur masterpieces. Dana Andrews, or Tourneur himself, or us, not only stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the mysticism of cinema, but refuses to face up to the reality of death. A horror film about the unknown becomes an absolute encounter with the void.
The monstruous creature inevitably ruined the power of suggestion, which was the highlight of his previous masterpieces (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), and the skepticism of the the main character irritated me a lot, but this is an excellent Tourneur. Everything is done with so much charm and vigor that it's hard not to like it. The scenes at the forest and the last, alone, make this film worth watching.
In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2011 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.