S1: Hi and welcome to another episode of Slate’s Flashback, our podcast about older and classic movies. I am Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and I’m talking, as always, with my friend Coston Collins of Rolling Stone.
S2: Hey, Ken. Hey, how’s it going? Really well. I am really excited to talk about this movie. This time. I have been watching Cat People and things about Cat People and reading about Cat People for almost two weeks now since we’ve spoken.
S3: And I’m just bursting with stuff here like an expert. You ready to record your commentary track?
S2: There are going to be valued nerds out there that will, I’m sure, find lots of mistakes in what I will say. But yeah, I feel like I have a little bit of lore now about what RKO Studios low budget horror movies were like in the 40s. And it’s all great, fascinating stuff. And also, I have to say, this is one of my favorite of the movies we’ve talked about in a while, just in terms of like how many conversational gambits I already have from just to watch through.
S3: Wow. I would say it’s up there for me as well. I mean, I’m a big fan of the Turner collaboration anyway, and also things that they did independently of each other. But this is a high point and this is kind of one of my back pocket. Introduce friends to a horror movie, you know, because it’s a horror movie. But there are just so many other things to talk about as well, so many other energies that make it really fun for people. This and I’m OK with the zombie are the two that I’m like, you guys look at this, right?
S2: Another veloute in production. Yes. Yeah. It’s a great introductory horror movie to that mood in that time. Right. That kind of noir, low budget horror of the 40s. And it also just has so many contemporary resonances that we can get into. I mean, it’s like it’s a queer movie and it’s a psychological thriller and it’s a feminist movie. And there’s just so much going on in it that’s just right there at the surface. But it never has to be laid out.
S3: Yeah, totally. I actually, because this is your choice and this is our kind of Halloween choice, our Tober choice, I have an urgent opening question. OK, OK. Do you think it’s possible that this movie is not about cats? Because I don’t know, I was watching it and I’m like, man, I thought this is about cats, but I was lied to. What do you think it’s really about, Dana?
S2: Well, that implies that you think that the cats, you know, that the cat thing represents one other thing, that the cats are a stand in like an allegory for something else.
S4: Oh, I know. I want to know what they are. Cats contain multitudes.
S2: I mean, I’m the one who should be asking you that because you are the cat person between the two of us. And, you know, in addition to this being on the grand scale about, you know, a transformer shapeshifter, a woman who becomes a cat, it’s also just so full of actual cats, like physical cat actors. And I thought of you a lot all the way through because I’m sure you were watching it with cats, you know, jumping around and destroying your personal property in the background.
S3: Well, my cats appreciate you calling the cats in the film actors. And as we learn from this movie, do not do not mess with cats. Don’t make them upset.
S2: Something to know about valuing the producer of this movie who we’ll talk about, who’s maybe the most important producer we’ve talked about yet on flashback. I mean, we tend to auteur style, Ty, the director, if anyone, and of course, the cast to what makes a movie, a movie. But Val Lewton was one of those producers who really drove the mood of the movies in his unit. And something fascinating I learned about veloute. And in my last couple of weeks of nerdy out on this stuff is that he was deathly afraid of cats. He was very afraid of cats, and he didn’t like to be touched. So he had those two things in common with you, which seem related.
S4: Yeah. Oh, of course. Right.
S2: I mean, cat people are the people unlike dog people like me who don’t necessarily want to lie around in huge snuggly piles all day with other mammals, but who keep to themselves and cats are notorious or because they prefer to come to you rather than for you to come to that, particularly if they don’t know you.
S3: If you are standoffish, you are only attracting them. So I would definitely be afraid of cats if I also had a fear of being touched without permission, because that’s exactly what a cat will do. It’s when you’re not looking, when you’re not paying attention. The thing it’s really easy to see how you get all kinds of allegorical things from even just that relationship.
S2: Right. I mean, I think something that really strikes me watching this movie is just how many dimensions it gives to Felicity. You know, to be feline is so many different things in this movie. I mean, it’s about, you know, you’re stealth. It’s about your sensuality. Your sexuality is about dangerousness and shyness in a way, you know, the fear of being touched or the kind of desire to lurk in the shadows. There’s a sense of cats as evil and dangerous for sure, and connecting them with evil and danger. But there’s also an incredible attraction to their sensuality and mystery.
S3: What is can Smith say? They’re warm when they’re in the room. You just have to touch them, which really is not the way to behave around a cat. But I get what it means.
S2: Well, that keeps being said about Rina as well, right? That her perfume has this warmth to it, you know, although in a way her character is shown as being much more cool and standoffish than, you know, the other human non-flying people in the cast.
S3: Right. Can I just say up top that it’s funny to watch this movie and also because Halloween’s coming up, it’s like I can’t watch it without mentally trying cat whiskers on her face. The cat women in this film and their faces and the cat like this. First of all, it’s the kind of detail that this director producer Pare is so good at. They’re so good at using details, details that don’t cost money like the face of an actor already has because the budget is low, using the resources to create era effects like we’re going to talk about a moment during which someone is going to confront another woman who is clearly also one of the people. But just as soon as you see the woman’s face, you’re like, oh, man, that’s one of the Serbian Mamadu Cat ladies. Immediately, immediately. Just little things like that that are so crucial, like the sound of a cat in the distance or shadows. And it’s just a great example, great demonstration of what made this collaboration between terror so magical, but also just how you can create these like wide ranging and fast and their impact effects from tiny things.
S2: Yeah, I mean, especially given that they were doing it all on a very low budget and with very little time. I mean, maybe this is the place to do our little sidebar on Balaton and by extension, Jacques Tourneur, because this was the first movie of their collaboration right there associated with all these movies, like I walked with a zombie that you mentioned. But this is the first time that the two of them had worked together. And, you know, I mean, they started off with a real bang. This movie was a huge hit, especially for how small its budget was and really made the RKO horror unit just a. Immediately from its very first movie, this one, something that people were eager to go and see, you know, people were screaming like this was kind of a phenomenon, this movie, when it came out in theaters and some incredible background that I didn’t know about the R.K. unit is that it sprung in part out of the failure of Magnificent Ambersons at the box office and the fact that Orson Welles had not panned out to be the artistic or at least box office gold mine that RKO had planned on. And so after Ambersons flopped, they changed management, the RKO unit, and decided they were going to start this arm of low budget horror movies to kind of make back some of that investment. And you see some of that in this movie because guess what? Set is reused. I bet you can guess because we talked about it when we did The Magnificent Ambersons on this show. We talked about this set piece in particular, the staircase. Yeah, it’s the staircase is lit a little bit differently. So it looks smaller. It doesn’t seem quite as cavernous as it did in Magnificent Ambersons. But, yeah, that mysterious staircase leading up to Irena’s apartment is the same set from Magnificent, which I got to say because we’re watching the movie this time.
S3: I mean, granted, this is also a matter of the filmmaking, but sort of making a point of, you know, showing us Simonsen sort of going up the stairs multiple times the rush of that. And the gaze is exchanged between the two of them from the ground floor to floor, et cetera. So they make use of the staircase, but the staircase in itself is extremely cinematic. It just is like the perfect size and shape or what these multiple films are doing to great reviews of a set.
S2: Yeah. And so many details in there. I mean, especially in Arenas apartment, which I mean, I could do a whole podcast just breaking down all the tchotchkes in her apartment. But in general, you know, the ship designing company where the leading man, Oliver, and his eventual girlfriend, Alice work is also just a beautiful design. I mean, given the fact that this thing was shot in, I believe, 20 weeks, 22 weeks, something like that, it went a little bit over time, but it was still a very, very short shoot. And it seems like it would be one of those low budget horror movies that you just sort of, you know, fix everything by turning on the fog machine a lot, hiding the fact that your sets are very cheap and have no detail, but not in the case of Ellerton and Jack Turner. They’re really concerned about all of these little things, the props, the sets, you know, the beautiful lighting effects that are always casting these cage like or Webb like designs in the background. You know, all of that stuff is just paid such exquisite attention to. And it’s very unusual, I think, in the context of a movie that really was turned out to bring people into audiences to make up for the failure of the same studio’s art movie the year before.
S3: Right. And I just think it’s worth dwelling a little bit on the fact that because, you know, at this point, there is the kind of low budget or that sort of wears its budget on its sleeve. And there has been some time I mean, like even like Bride of Frankenstein, I don’t watch it and think, man, their budget was huge. It is also a kind of contained money wise film. But this doesn’t look its price to me. And it’s the things that you’re talking about. It’s the attention to design, the objects in the apartment and all the things that sort of populate the world and the things that they sort of cut back on in terms of using footage. And one scene, it, you know, tricks that they have, like these are things that can allow them to really look really fantastic. I mean, just even talking I’m thinking of the therapy scene and the lighting on someone’s face. And that’s not an expensive gesture. That’s not an expensive feat of design, but it is perfect for what the movie is doing. And, you know, when you have a lot of shadow, I mean, you know, you could just obscure how unrealistic a set and look just through the design of the filmmaking and the movie. I mean, this really does not feel as small as it is. And I have to say, I mean, for all the ways that we’re even talking about Turner in the context of this specific collaboration, for me, what makes him one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in this period and in and around Hollywood writ large, is that for all the ways we associate him with horror and in passage is a classic Western stars in my crown last like nightfall and out of the past, like this is a director who has a lot of genre range. And for all the ways that we bring him up in terms of fees or low budget horror films, and this is one the leopard man I walked to the zombie we mention all fantastic and all strong for the reasons that capital is a strong film. But John was bigger than that. And like his career really sort of runs through genres in a way that just sort of facility for style and effect. I mean, Kanyon, passage is one of the most stylish Westerns ever, just even the costumes and the richness of the Technicolor there. I would try to hunt that down, if you can. I don’t think it’s screening, but I think another thing we’re pointing out is for all the ways that Newton has a clear sort of stamp as a producer and he’s. Selznick in that way, and these two have ties to each other. I think it’s instructive to watch the sequel to this Curse of the Capital, which is directed by Robert Wise, who I guess his biggest movie is as a director, probably West Side Story at the of music in that period of time. But he also did other horror movies like The Haunting, which is classic Andromeda Strain and other things. He was another sort of genre guy, musical guy, and he was editor of Citizen Kane. But it’s interesting to track that as you compare people in terms of people, these are very different movies in terms of style and intent. And the questions raised just goes to show you that the relationship between two is symbiotic as it was. They each stand apart, I think, as well.
S2: Yeah. And in this case, I think also there attunement with Simon Simon, you know, they found the perfect person for this role and that she found herself in a way as an actor in it. It wasn’t her first time in Hollywood. She had kind of gone back and forth between French films and Hollywood films in her career and had a period in the 30s where she was, you know, appearing in supporting roles, but never quite breaking through. And this was her first lead in a Hollywood picture. And, you know, really definitely made her name, at least in the U.S., although she had just made a successful Jean Renoir movie in France the year before. I actually wanted to listen to a little clip of Simon Simon talking about her experience making this film, because I think part of what makes this film have that sense of kind of cohesive perfection that it does like everything falls right into place. And everyone seems to be on the same page about exactly what sort of extremely bizarre movie that they were making, you know, which really had nothing else to do with coming out of Hollywood at the time. And she says something so fascinating about it, which appears on the commentary track that you can find on Criterion underneath Cat People. Let’s listen to a little clip of it.
S5: But with the dead people with Iran, everything came naturally. I work in that picture with all of my being, my heart. And I am I mean, in my head. It was such a strange character, strange story. I mean, many people would have laughed at it. That’s what I was afraid of. But it came naturally, not without pain, because it’s painful to do it. It’s the biggest lie they’ve had.
S3: I hadn’t heard that, but I really love that in part because of this movie. Look, if you describe it to someone, it’s corny, the horror, and not that that’s not true when you watch it, but I’m so taken with the way that someone describes the fullness of the role for her, how intuitive it was for her, because one of the things that makes us stand out to me is the real initial sense of despair that she seems to have when she sort of gets into these impulses, when she becomes jealous and she rides home for the first time. She’s very downtrodden. She’s looking down at the ground and there’s this visual, like emotive core to this movie, the four, all the ways in which the failure of psychoanalysis to do all these things like these things are sort of corny and they’re even sort of ironic. But I don’t know. I like her performance. It really is like this real struggle against her instincts and her urges, but makes, I think, the horror of it a bit heightened because I believe that she’s so in conflict with these things. But I do think that this is like a reason that we still talk about it, like there’s a genuine core here. I think she’s right.
S6: And I think that the mystery that it continues to have, despite the fact that we can now kind of see some of the Freudian gears clunking at work. Right, especially in the scenes with the psychiatrist, is that there’s something about the character of Irina that exceeds all of that. There’s some mystery of her that is not soluble. Just by saying Katz equals sexuality, she is afraid of her sexuality. Therefore, she becomes a cat and eats the person who wants to have sex with her. Right. I mean, you could break it down that schematically, but it wouldn’t account for everything that Irina is, the fact that she is an artist and that she’s drawn to kind of drawing these things over and over and that she wants to surround yourself with these images of these things that are also these awful ancestral traumatic memories for her. And just even some of the the little off moments where she’s murmurings Sunline like. Doesn’t she say at one point when she’s trying to throw her man out because she’s discovered that he’s falling in love with the other woman? Alice, there’s some that moment on the couch which is mumbling something like, I crave loneliness. I mean, it’s like a Garbo line, right. But it has a little bit of that sense of solitude and mystery to her character that even once you’ve understood that she’s a cat lady, that doesn’t account for everything that we want to know about her.
S3: No, it doesn’t. And even let the question of her sexual urges, it just never feels that simple to me, particularly because of the ways that Oliver describes her and the attraction to her. It is not just about her sexuality, but rather it’s not just about her sexual impulses. It’s also just about the role that sexuality plays among other people. And there’s a way of just reading. This is like there the people who just sort of want to play it straight. And then there’s the people who have the weird sexual urges that we don’t want to talk about. But, you know, it just doesn’t feel reducible. And I agree. That’s part of why I think we still talk about it. I always talk about a lot of the great older horror films. I mean, no matter how many times I watch a movie like Night of the Hunter, I just am always overwhelmed because I think these things are and I think they’re really good here at making this really about right and the unknown and the things that you can’t really put your finger on. They’re slippery. There aren’t any they’re dark and Freud and analysis and all these things sort of dip into that terrain. But the movie also has its answer for that Araneta within the movie, thinking about the mind versus the soul and the soul itself being this unknowable thing and therefore kind of a source of dread in the case of someone whose soul would seem to be tainted by this ancient history of cat witches.
S6: Yeah, I mean, I have to say that I also feel there, even though the movie never makes it explicit and maybe it wasn’t even conscious on the religious part. I sense this tension between the old and the new world. Right, because there’s this Europe versus America thing going on in this movie arena. Is this immigrant. She’s supposed to be from Serbia. Right. And then she tells these scary dark myths of her people back in Serbia that she still believes in, which, of course, are scoffed at as superstition by her apple pie eating. He literally orders apple pie, American boyfriend. And if you think about where the film came from, that Valentine was an immigrant born in Russia, that Jack Turner is an immigrant that is going back and forth between Europe and America and that we are in nineteen forty two in the middle of a world war where Americans and Europeans are combining in ways and fighting each other and fighting for each other in all of these historically unprecedented ways. It just seems like a moment, as with Casablanca, another movie that came out in the same year. Right when a purportedly Hollywood film is actually it has all of these European actors and European creators. Behind it and is kind of enacting a drama that is also about world history, this is a very literary movie in its way. It begins with a citation, which I’ll read right now, which is a sort of semi fake citation. And then it ends with that citation from a John Donne poem. But the quote that begins the movie and underneath that, we see that freaky statue of the Serbian king with an impaled cat on his sword. It says, even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness? And this quote is attributed to Dr. Lewis Chud, the psychiatrist played by Tom Conway in the movie from a non-existent book called The Anatomy of Atavism. But in fact, this quote is apparently from Sigmund Freud, or at least is a very close paraphrase of something that he wrote. So, I mean, again, it’s sort of like the movie is laying it all right out there, that there’s going to be some sort of psychoanalytic engine driving its story. But I would say that this quote in its sort of poetic invocation of evil, it serves a couple of purposes, right? I mean, it sort of links us to psychoanalysis, but it also puts us in the world of the horror movie, the place where the terror that you feel could never be explained away by a doctor in an office.
S3: It’s something far too pervasive and frightening because at this point, we’re also just at a moment where Freudian theories like this, broadly speaking, are well known enough to the culture at large that you can sort of, you know, have a psychiatrist in a scene, mention the father or the mother, and people kind of understand or have some sort of facility with I mean, these things became just a part of the language of movies and they became a part of the language of literature and modernism and all these things like that. It is always interesting to think about how psychology and art shifted alongside the rise of Freud and psychoanalysis, probably because the both of us have literary training. But we maybe we to be sympathetic to that argument. But I really can see the ways that culture art is engaging. And then, yeah, when you add the context of war and the prospects of World War as its own sort of hovering, uncanny, unknown, these are feelings that the movie is tapping into in a real way, in addition to all the sexual themes that American culture induces anyway and fears of the forest and the exoticism of the forest. All of that is in this hour. And 10 minute movies about Cat, which ancestry.
S6: OK, I really appreciate how incredibly economical it is and how much story and theme and just freaky horror it manages to fit. And speaking of that economy, it’s impossible not to admire how quickly and efficiently that first scene, the meat cute scene you might call it, sets up so many of the themes and places that will be important later on in the movie. The very first thing that we see is a black cat pacing in his cage. And this is, of course, the panther that she’s drawing as part of her kind of fashion sketches. Irina’s job is to work for a fashion house, although you never quite see her at work other than drawing on her own. But in addition to drawing a somewhat cat like woman in a dress, she’s drawn this picture of an impaled cat, which, of course, is going to become an important image throughout the movie. But that person is just it’s so admirable in its economy. It’s just the camera that moves as it needs to cat. Like among these few figures, the black cat pacing in the cage, the woman drawing and the man observing her from that kind of concessions. She’s literally as she’s littering. OK, yeah. Well, even that is there’s no detail that’s wasted because, of course, that scene is about this law abiding American clean-Cut man observing this mysterious woman doing a mysterious thing, drawing at the zoo and also in whatever small way, breaking the law, you know, littering, which he sort of tidies up after. So the relationship has already been set up as the one where he is this force of kind of lawfulness or good, and she is something mysterious that’s outside of that law. The flirtation between them is set up, I think, really believably, but very simply and quickly. And then next thing we know, they’re strolling out of the park together and she asks him up to her apartment, which I mean, in the context of both the Hays office restrictions of the time and how important it was to not show women doing promiscuous things like asking a strange man up to their apartment, but also even in relation to these two characters and this woman who’s going to turn out to be afraid of being touched essentially and not ever want to consummate their eventual marriage. There’s something so intimate and sensual and surprising about that moment when she invites him up to her apartment.
S3: Yeah, it is a little surprising when she invites him up, although for me then that’s understandable when she says, like, you’re the first guy that made in America. So it’s my understanding of her intentions and his intentions. He’s pretty straight laced. It’s also like maybe the Hays Code would care more if he were less square jawed and Ken Doll and sexually unassuming, but. It’s jarring very early on to cut from let’s have tea to her apartment is completely dark and she’s coming up to the silhouette of what we later learned to be King John of Serbia against the window at night as the first thing we see, because to cut to an apartment in the dark is suggestive.
S6: Yeah, that’s sort of what I mean, is that it goes way beyond sex, like whatever happened between them in those hours since the daylight bombing that you invited up to the apartment and the dark moment when we next see him stretched on the couch, her leaning against the mantel, humming this tune in silence, and then them talking about, oh, the darkness and the Panthers roar outside. I mean, like you somehow believe that they have this intimate connection right from the beginning. It doesn’t seem like a contrivance for the story.
S3: No, it doesn’t. It is also immediately strange. It’s just whatever your expectations for these two people, you meet at the zoo when she’s literally for five minutes later, not even to be in her apartment and immediately about to be deep into this terrifying lure in the dark, it subverts whatever expectations you’re going to have. You know, it’s a horror movie when you start the movie. Probably, hopefully. But yeah, whatever your expectations for these people, her strangeness, her sensuality is already in excess of what this movie’s supposed to be doing.
S6: And here, I think maybe we could listen to our first clip from the movie, because there’s no way that I can do justice to this incredible speech that she gives him about the lure of her country having to do with this evil cat invasion from medieval times. And the craziest thing of all is that this didn’t provoke laughter at the time in the audience. It wasn’t perceived as camp. It still doesn’t read his camp. No, there’s something genuinely terrifying about the way she tells the story, if only because someone seemingly so effectively conveys that she herself still believes it and is deeply afraid.
S7: You see, the Amanda Knox came to Serbia long ago and they made the people slaves. Well, at first, people were good and worship God and a true Christian way, but little by little the people changed. When King John drove out the Mamluks and came to our village. He found dreadful things. People bow down to Satan.
S8: And sat down next to him. They had become witches and were evil. Jong un put some of them to the sword and some the wisest and the most wicked. Escaped into the mountains, not understand.
S7: I still don’t see what it has to do with you. Those who escaped the wicked ones from. The legend haunts the village where I was born.
S3: Yeah, there really is no way to paraphrase that you just sort of have to hear it from her, but this is one of the simple but key things that I think happens in this film. You know, a lot of this speech is we’re just looking at her. You know, what you’re saying about it is sort of not reading us camp. And to my earlier point about how genuine her feelings about this feel as she sort of opens up about it, it really rests on her performance and it rests on filmmaking, but understands that it has to get itself over to her in order to believe this source of unnamable desire that she’s so fearful of. We don’t quite understand yet what she feels, her real connection to this to be. This is something that gets elaborated upon as we watch the movie. And it’s key. I think he sort of tries to brush it off. It’s just some weird form mythology that doesn’t mean anything because, of course, you can’t dissent from CAT, which is but she’s describing something that’s like Christianity and Christian desires. And that being, what has it been eroded in this community when these dark horses come over as being sort of a thing that as an American audience and as someone who’s, you know, in that moment talking to an American as apple pie guy, as you describe, you know that he is a sort of even as an urban kind of New York professional kind of Christian, clean, unadorned by bad desires kind of guy. And so there is this like, you know, American Christianity is at one end as we’re transposing her here and this Warren murky. Right, this pagan arc. Yeah, yeah. And the violence of King John slaughtering the cats and the fact that she has that statue, which again, is like the first thing we see in our part of the silhouette of that horse.
S2: You know, we’ve already been prepared for that image to be explained by all this terror that she’s unleashed on us and even just the apartment itself to sort of what a goth place it is with the various paintings of eerie, glowing eyed cats and things in corners. I mean, there’s so many red flags at the Oliver character just completely doesn’t pay attention to. But of course, that’s what makes for the kind of chemistry and contrast between them. It is that he does seem to have this belief in the possibility of saving her, rescuing her from what he perceives as this just dark, superstitious fantasy.
S3: And, you know, I hadn’t thought about this before, but I think there’s something to the fact that he works in the ship design company. And she is in theory, though, again, we don’t see her doing it, this sort of artist’s fashion figure. But I think there is this thing that connects them and that her strangeness could be attributed by him to her kind of artistic ness. It’s like maybe it’s bohemian, maybe it’s what makes her Serbian. He like doesn’t read it as, oh, what you’re laying on me right now is this weird psychological nexus of sex and jealousy and desire and paganism and all these things. You’re just sort of the cute Serbian girl, just kind of artsy.
S4: The manic pixie cascara.
S3: Artsy and strange. Yeah.
S2: Well, speaking of Manic Pixie Girls, his next response to that that we see in the next driver of the plot to its next point is that he decides to get her a kitten, which is a very odd response to having someone tell you this utterly terrifying story about killer felines in their ancient homeland. But, yeah, the next time we see him, he’s at his work, which is very contrasted to hers. Right. He works in this very light filled office with other people. It’s the opposite of the sense of kind of isolation and darkness that we associate her with. That’s also when we meet the Alice character played by Jane Randolph, who will become her romantic rival later on. And that’s we learn through him lifting the lid of this little shoe box on his desk that he’s gotten her a pet kitten for their next date, which I have to say is a very big step up for a next date, like talk about a red flag, someone who buys you a pet without asking.
S3: And the second time they’ve met you, maybe that’s what they did in the forties. I don’t know. I mean, they’re already gone kind of fast, but I mean, he’s already in her apartment, but they’re not touching each other. So I guess a cat maybe to an extent. But of course, because she’s this cat spirit manifest, he brings a cat back and the cat is like, absolutely not. I don’t want any part of this woman. The cat flips out at her and it’s like the first kind of oh, man, she just told us that cat story. What if she is one of the cat spirit witches? Right. I keep coming up with so many different words for them because the mythology is so like the detail of where the cat power comes from matters so much less to me than her fear.
S2: Yeah, I mean, we can talk about that later in the scenes where she does transform, but it’s so much scarier and so much more mysterious that we don’t see the transformation, you know, and it’s certainly that there isn’t a CGI style, realistic transformation. But, you know, there’s not even really sort of a cutaway and then cutting back to a cat. There’s an ambiguity created with the way those scenes are shot so that we never witnessed the moment of transformation or really even the result of the transformation until the very, very end. But let’s talk about the pet shop scene that this kitten incident leads to, because it’s beautifully filmed in its own way and I couldn’t help but think of what of the movie we’ve seen that has a great pet shop scene of a person surrounded by birdcages. But the bird, which is also about unexpressed desires, I wonder, actually, I mean, it’s hard to imagine that Alfred Hitchcock would not have been a fan of these Balaton movies. And I wonder if he was thinking of the pet shop scene at all when he filmed the bird scene, because there really is almost a similar set constructed right where the woman working at the shop lives amidst this maze of bird cages and some symbolic power even already to the birds because she’s a cat.
S3: It’s very strange how quickly these ideas are already presented and gather in your mind as you watch, like she is so convincingly told the story of this cat mythology that I mean, as soon as you see birds or at least me, I think, OK, this is going somewhere. This is not a place for you to be. And of course, as soon as they show up, all of the animals in the pet shop freak out. And the woman who owns the shop has this funny kind of speech about how animals just know when something’s wrong with the person. And cats in particular know something from the person, which seems to be a quality. But the cat, which is don’t totally have until you make them jealous.
S2: Well, so she waits and she waits outside the pet store while he picks her out a bird, and then she proceeds to take the bird home, I can’t remember how many scenes it is later that the bird meets his fate. But we just have to talk about that moment briefly, too, because it is really the first kill. You know, it’s this movie has a very slow build, even though it’s so incredibly short. It’s not until quite late in the movie that anything violent starts to happen. But the bird does bite it very early on. And there’s something mysterious about the birds death as well, because it’s very unclear in that moment. You know, she seems to be in a moment when she’s not overtaken by her dark thoughts of cat, which didn’t where she’s sort of trying to enjoy her life and to enjoy being in love and the gift that her boyfriend has brought her. And as I remember, there’s some sort of happy, cheery music playing as she reaches into the bird cage to play with the bird. But then it’s so, so ambiguous, like, why is she reaching for the bird and that somewhat violent way that frightens it? And why is she smiling you? Does her smile there mean I love my little bird from my boyfriend? Or is it the cat that the canary sort of look, you know, where she is enjoying its fear and what is it finally kills the bird. Does it just die of fright or does it bang against the side of the cage? That scene was sort of a mystery to me as well.
S3: Yeah, because it’s one of those scenes where her face is telling the entire story. We’re watching her and her hands in the cage, but we’re not really seeing what’s happening with her. And for me, I mean, it’s her expression changes so quickly, I would believe, and I maybe she says this later on, I can’t quite remember. But I think the bird, like, is scared to death because the bird is not responding to her as a person using it the cage, but rather as a predator, as its apex predator reaching into the cage. Since we’re mentioning films that this reminds us of, I must point out Michelle Pfeiffer and Batman Returns reaching into a birdcage in a Catwoman suit and eating the bird, putting it in her mouth and then letting it fly out of her mouth as just a nice revision of the scene.
S2: I completely forgot about that scene. You’re right. They need to be put into a supercute together. But in a way, she does think she does the proxy equivalent of that. And it’s one of the most volatile moments in the movie, especially when she describes it later. I guess she must be describing it to Oliver. But what she proceeds to do with the dead bird is put it in this box, go straight to the zoo, to the Panthers cage where the movie began, and give the dead bird to the Panther, which is so many things at once. Right. I mean, it’s that cat like behavior, which I’m sure you know of. You know, cats making a killing, bringing it to their owners, putting it on your pillow.
S4: Don’t ask me how you know I’m so glad I’m not a cat person.
S2: And then it’s also, of course, it’s appeasing the creature that she is afraid of. And yet the creature that she is, you know, it’s a way of vicariously eating the bird herself without actually putting it in her mouth. And the way that she describes the scene later on, the idea that she was kind of compelled to do that, that it was almost beyond her power, that she found herself walking, compelled to walk to the zoo to give this bird to the cat is just, again, one of those incredible moments that kind of exceeds, you know, that didn’t have to be in the movie. But it makes it so much more terrifying than it is.
S3: Absolutely. But something you just said, I think, is really essential to the kind of mysteries of the core of this movie, which is the difference between the cat that she’s afraid of, that panther and the cat that she is like the slipperiness bear. And this is one thing that the Freudian psychologist does get right, that she is afraid of that animal in the cage and she also wants to release it. That tension, I think, is so key to what she feels slippery throughout that it’s this mutual twined, completely concurrent desire to release and withhold these desires. And that’s why she goes into these kind of spellbound states of playing with the bird, with the kind of like detached joy that’s like this other instinct and that, yeah, bringing the bird as an offering. The idea of her making an offering to this God apparently is so fascinating because that is a kind of thing that makes her distinct from the animal in itself. That is the thing that makes her a human spiritual descendant, but not in that moment in her in or kind of that cat. But, you know, when it’s outside of her, it’s a source of fear. But also it’s a godlike fear. You make offerings to it. You know, a funny thing about I mean, you know, it’s such an economical movie and it’s also a film from the Forties in which we have to suspend how quickly people follow up with each other. But it is the scene after they get the there is the scene where he says that he’s in love with her back at her apartment. And we should play a clip of her reaction to this, because it’s another one of those things that she says that opens the lid a little bit on what’s going on with her in.
S9: I never wanted to love. I stayed away from people who lived alone. I monotheist do you just told me you love me. I do, I do. I fled from some things you could never know. I understand.
S3: Yeah, this is one of my favorite moments in the movie, actually. I think the despair that I was talking about before with regard to her character, with which she says, I’ve lived in dread at this moment because she can lay this out for us later. But really, what is going on here? I think her relationship to her desires is in part a matter of knowing that falling in love with a man is the first step in a very slippery slope toward becoming the thing that she knows but doesn’t quite want to confront that she is that she is afraid that she might be this is her falling in love or hearing that a man is in love with her and realizing maybe she’s in the direction of feeling the same way and just knowing that this is dangerous. But I mean, he showed up with a pair like the second date. So I feel like personally I would have been like, OK, we’re going to stop this right here. Right now. You’re already giving me gifts. I thought we were just friends.
S2: Well, I mean, she also this scene that you just had us play clip from is also the first one that she explicitly lays out the sexual link between her and her cat fears. Right. But essentially, she’s making this deal saying, fine, I’ll think about marrying you, but just know that you can never, quote, kiss me. I mean, I think we’re all meant to understand that the relationship will never be consummated or she at least can’t promise that it will be. And then interestingly, we jump over the wedding altogether. Maybe that was just too expensive to stage or they didn’t want to bother with, you know, explaining who their families were.
S4: But we go and would have loved to have seen all the cat décor personally. Wedding veil, a little pointy ears.
S2: No know, she had to have some, but no, the first time we see the married, it’s the deed is already done and they’re with their friends in this honestly really fun looking restaurant called the Belgrad. That seems to be a Serbian place in honor of her Serbian roots. And so they’re all sitting around making marry her rival. Alice is there as well. And at that point, she and Alice seem to be well disposed toward each other, you know, not too jealous chatting away. Of course, Alice is not yet confessed her love to Oliver. But the most important thing that happens, the Belgrad, is the appearance of this mysterious cat like woman played by an actress named Elizabeth Russell, who I tried to look up some things about. And it seems that she is mainly known for this role. But this tiny, tiny role in Cat People, in which she says essentially one line, two different times in a foreign language, she’s become kind of a cult horror legend. And it’s worth noting that the lines that you speaks are dubbed by Simon Simon, thereby enforcing the bond between them. The line that she says is translated later by Simon’s character as my sister, my sister, she says to her twice and then disappears glamorously into the night.
S3: And note that Iran’s reaction to this is to do the cross. The Serbian community that she dissent from was a Christian community that fell into chaos because of these spirits. But even seeing her do that symbol, it’s like she’s warding off the devil. That’s how she feels about this. It’s really no wonder, honestly, Elizabeth Russell became a kind of cult figure from just this one moment, because the second you see her, you know that she’s one of that and it’s partially her face if you just see a picture of her. But it’s also the makeup and it’s also her. Yeah, the way she moves. Right. Recognition and.
S2: Yeah, and one of the Normy characters at the table even says, look over at the woman over there. The other guy says, oh, she looks like a cat. Right. I mean, that’s how feline she is.
S3: This is one of those moments that just is always a good thing in the movie. It’s such a short moment, but there’s just something in her eyes at recognizing one of her own. And just moments, the searching want to recognize Irene’s character and to be recognized. That just gets under my skin. It’s just a perfect scene today.
S2: Another thing worth mentioning about it, I think in this, I think was a bit of a controversy at the time. Maybe again, with the Hays office, is there something totally lesbian’s about it? Right. I mean, these two women have nothing to do with the space they’re in that don’t belong, that recognize each other. They recognize each other’s beauty and each other’s danger. You know, in this way that has to be kept sort of secret from everybody else at the table. I mean, every bit of it could be read, whether it was intended that way or not, as this kind of queer allegory. And there also are, I think, readings like that of the relationship between Marina and Ellis, who is ostensibly her romantic rival. Right. It’s a situation where they both want the same guy. But in fact, if you think about it, the two most terrifying scenes in this movie, the two big stalking scenes, are a woman stalking a woman. It’s Irana following Alice in various places in the swimming pool. But earlier, when she walks after her in the street and once again, I feel like if you were watching this at the time as the closeted gay person, that you would have probably been at the time. There would have been something about those scenes that gave you a real frisson whether or not you thought that they were meant to be directed at you or not.
S3: Certainly in this moment and far earlier, I mean, the sensuality, the sneakiness covertness of the cat and the femininity of it and all these things. All these sexual images, all the all the things you associate with cats and the ways that they move and the ways that they relate to each other and the ways they these lives independent of humans that feel mysterious interest in cat or totally lends itself to this thing between these two women. That is just beyond what anyone else in the room can really understand. And that is, again, something that in Elizabeth Russell’s eyes is there, you know, like this is not Todd Haynes’s Carol. If it becomes like a kind of lesbian movie, this is something like far more immediately charged. It’s like the two of them and no one else exists in the scene for that moment.
S2: So there’s one important character who was introduced after the scene with the Catwoman in the restaurant, and that is Dr. Judd, played by Tom Conway, who fun fact is the brother of George Sanders of all about Eve fame, the suave Hollywood supporting actor of the same era. And once you know that, you start realizing that Tom Conway has a very George Sanders sort of like slightly less prickly about a gentler George Sanders. Right. Anyway, he plays Dr. Lewis Judd, whose quote We read up at the beginning right from his fake book. He’s this kind of Freudian, but also sort of magician like hypnotist slash analyst who Irana ends up getting sent to by her husband. I mean, she completely agrees. She wants to try to get over her childhood trauma. She’s accepting now the American style narrative that, you know, this is just a superstition that she can root out with therapy and she goes to see Dr. Judd and starts to dig into her traumatic past. Now, this is important for a couple of reasons. One of which is that her husband and I have to admit, this is a pretty tacky thing to do, betrays her and tells his workmate, Alice, that, you know, she is beginning treatment with this psychiatrist. So I want to talk about the first stalking scene because it’s an incredible scene. But we should know that the reason that this Catwoman Arena is stalking Alice is because she has just walked in on her husband and Alice talking about the fact that she’s gone into psychotherapy.
S3: He’s done the thing you don’t do, which is talk to another woman about things going on between you and your girlfriend when you know full well that you’re just going to cause some drama. Don’t talk about anything other people like this because they’re going to come out and get you for it. That’s right, Alice. And are in a totally cool until this became all you have to do is be more discreet with this guy. And now it’s going to turn into a whole thing where she’s going to see them on the street together and turn into like a panther and stalk this poor woman, maybe for the queer reading versions that we were just talking about, but also because as someone tells us herself, one of the real triggers of falling in love is the potential for jealousy or irrational kind of feeling. Well, not irrational, to be fair, because I guess things do sort of pop off.
S2: Oh, yeah. And she’s already confessed to him at this point. Right. There was a scene quite early in the movie where she tells him, look, you know, I love you, but I’m not going to do anything about it. So that makes it double jeopardy that he tells her this intimate fact about what’s going on with Irana.
S3: You can’t do that because that’s when the mythology comes out and that’s going to be trouble for you. That’s when the Mamluks become literally what the Mamluks were looking for, for you to do that.
S2: So then we get this great first big action sequence in the movie, which has so many interesting things to say about it. I mean, one, of course, is that a woman is stalking a woman, as we talked about earlier, another that’s really striking in a movie that’s so full of music. Right. That has that musical theme comes earlier. That comes back many, many times later on. And that actually comes back in kind of minor key form in some of the scary scenes. It’s a highly scored Hollywood movie of its time. And yet this first stalking scene is completely silent.
S3: And the only sounds you hear are the click clerks of the woman’s heels on the sidewalk, which is in itself without even needing to watch the scene, just the pacing of the box. And the moment that scene moans, sound disappears, just listening to the scene is incredibly creepy.
S2: Yeah. I mean, it would be scary with a track alone, right? It could be sort of like from a radio drama of its time. Absolutely. Like that, including the big jump scare at the end right after you’ve heard all these click clacks and then you hear Symmons click clacks die away, which becomes even creepier later on when you realize, oh, she turned into a cat and got soft pop ads and that’s why the sound went away. Right. But it ends with this great jump scare where you hear suddenly a very loud sound and you like Alice, you know, give this huge jump and it turns out it’s a bus pulling up and she gets on it. And this actually became a thing that value in movies were known for. I think they even came to be called bus scares, although they weren’t always buses. But, you know, moments when you’re kind of freaked out and you think something scary is going to happen. But it is, in fact, a mundane, everyday thing. Now, this is kind of a horror movie cliche, but you can see how in 1942 it would have been a really inventive use of sound.
S3: And this is one of the great things for me about watching. Older horror in particular because of the repetition of effects of jump scare tactics, et cetera, that you get in the Shandra that reference reality of the Shandra, that’s one of the things that I really love about it. It’s always so fun to kind of watch it, though. That is the source of a lot of these other sort of cliches. But to watch it and for the original to be so fresh still and so effective still, I feel the same way about like, you know, the call coming from inside the house, originating in Black Christmas, another kind of horror classic. It’s still really creepy in that movie. It’s creepier than in any version since. And this like the tricks here or creepier than in any movie to me that is duplicated. Then again, it’s like a cost cutting thing also of like this shot being repeated. It’s like a piece of footage is part of what makes this so drawn out and strange and uncanny.
S2: You know, all these little elements that come together to make something genuinely scary and a super creepy ending to that section as well, where without us quite seeing what happened, we see this Shepard who discovers a dead sheep among his flock and next to the dead sheep, you see, and this is just such an incredible idea, the cat paw prints leading away, presumably in blood right on the ground, although it’s black and white. So who knows? And gradually, as the camera follows the prints, they turn into the imprint of a high heeled shoe. It’s so it’s amazing.
S4: It’s so good.
S2: So whatever happened there, we know that Erina has done something right. She’s feasted somehow on a sheep, presumably because she was not able to get the woman that she was trying to stalk. And then there’s a very, very nightmarish and gorgeous little interlude back at Irena’s apartment. My favorite set in this movie, I’m always happy when is at home because you can just check out her amazing apartment. You see her back in her bathtub, right. So you could maybe imagine that she’s washing the blood off herself. She’s extremely upset, weeping in the tub, and then she falls asleep and has this whacko dream, which again made me think of Hitchcock and the dream sequence that Salvador Dali designed a few years later in Spellbound, although that was a much more high budget and sort of arty endeavor. But this one in its very RKO horror way gets some really, really mysterious imagery. And there are these kind of animated black cats that are coming at us in waves. And there’s this moment that King John of Serbia, the guy that we’ve earlier seen in the freaky statue in her apartment, appears to hand her a sword. But he is the doctor. He is the Tom Conway character handing her the sword. So it’s all this very jumbled Freudian moment of, I suppose, sort of her being given the right to kill Alice. I mean, I sort of read that dream as a moment when someone from our ancestral homeland was visiting her in the form of her shrink, saying, here you go, take this sword and go to town. And the very last image that you see there is that there’s a dissolve between the sword that he’s proffering her and a key that we’ve already seen, the key that that friendly old zookeeper keeps on his keychain. But he’s always forgetting it. And we’ve already established earlier that he doesn’t really care about losing the key because in his words, who would want to come get these crazy cats anyway? So that inspires her to go back to Central Park and steal the key to the Panthers cage, which will come in handy at the end.
S3: Yes. And I think also by this point, we bypass the scene. But this is really the most important thing that happens there is the psychologist also kind of outlines for some moment that the key is a source of temptation for her. It’s weird and to me really exciting to see the way that the dream is allowing other things that have happened in the movie to kind of congeal. And it all just increases the sense of real dread for me. But also, like I think because it’s a dream and because it’s a movie that is so openly in conversation, psychoanalysis like it is just a really effective way of getting at this all kind of being a matter of Irena’s in her life. But like what’s on the line here is like her entire psychology. What makes her a soul, what makes her a person, the things that she’s feeling, it’s all like these gimmicks in this weird plot and all this stuff. But this is all in service of a movie that for me ultimately comes down to this woman and these things that she’s feeling that she doesn’t want to be what she’s feeling, but which just sort of pull her in the way that Oliver describes being pulled in by her. You know, there’s like this inner magnetism of hers that it’s just pulling us all in even as it’s so terrifying. And she just feels so afraid. Even as I think the more she transforms, the more at peace seems to make with, I think, the idea of embracing herself in this way. But I don’t know. There’s still real dread, at least in our end, because she’s still stalking the shadows.
S2: And that brings us to the next stalking scene. The thing that I remember best about this movie, when we agreed to do Cat People, the very first thing I thought of was that swimming pool scene. And I think we need to get to it because it’s an. The way the dramatic climax, even though there’s some more action and some more freaky stuff afterwards, the actual trigger for the second stalking is kind of a funny trigger, I think. I mean, anybody who’s ever been in that kind of love triangle situation would completely identify what makes her angry the second time. This time, it’s not that her husband has betrayed her confidence by telling his workmate that she’s going to a shrink, but it’s because they all go to a museum together and they totally ignore her.
S4: Oh, my God.
S2: The worst. Right. And of course, they as the ship designers, which is the great movie job to have, are very drawn to the models of ships in the museum. And there’s this moment that is sort of having shoptalk over some sort of ship model. Which did you notice? It has a cat as the I forget what they call it, but as that kind of frontispiece on a ship, you know the figure. Yeah. And they sort of dismiss her and say, why don’t you go upstairs and look at something else? Because we’re talking about our beloved ships. And you can totally understand at that moment if you’ve ever been, you know, similarly dissed by your significant other with some other person, why you might want to stalk someone in the basement swimming pool of their apartment building.
S3: As I recall, it’s even as specific as Alice being the first one to say, oh, this is so boring right now. And then Oliver being the one saying, yeah, honey, why don’t you go wait for us somewhere while we look at these ships again after like you’re not playing this, right? You know, like it’s not a petty jealousy at this point. There’s a real exclusion and a real sense that these two people are getting closer because they are. I think that’s another thing that I like about this movie, is that the movie doesn’t deny that that’s sort of what happens, if anything, what’s going on around. It’s just the two of them together. And finally, these workmates who at least analysis and hadn’t admitted that she was in love yet. And that does because in that moment he is complaining about his wife and all the things he doesn’t understand about her. So there’s a real thing that everyone is picking up on and then to be dissed. Right. You’re literally begging her to turn into a panther and destroy it. And yes, the pool scene, I think, is really important, in part because there’s another cat here, like the owner of the pool or who’s in charge that night, has a cat and the cat reacts poorly. But this is, again, one of those super low economy. We’re going to rely on the spookiness of Shadow to get under your skin. It’s like the less the movie does, the more it creeps me out.
S2: Yeah. And I mean, kudos to whatever location Scout found that amazingly dank pool that is the most unappealing looking pool. It’s just it’s a pool and a room in which only bad things could happen. And it’s lit in this very stark I mean, it’s, I guess, noir style lighting, which is this very high contrast, stark kind of ugly lighting. I mean, in a movie that’s full of really lush sets and, you know, The Ambersons Staircase and all these moments of beauty, it feels like a murder den pool.
S3: Absolutely. I mean, and again, to talk about how this movie is in the DNA of horror movies, follow a movie that comes immediately to mind with a cool scene where the spook of the movie is kind of this unseen. But then seeing thing hovering around the edges of a public indoor creepy pool is the very recent horror movie. It follows that one of the climaxes about movies like this terrifying scene, it right from the capital playbook, only higher budget or certainly a higher budget with that movie. And this you just need the shadow and you also need that image of Alice’s robe torn to shreds. Yeah, that’s like the key. Now we’re really just putting our finger on it. And I think the quick readings of this that I’ve read about that.
S2: Yeah. The wardrobe that’s never explained or commented on, it’s truly, you know, shredded. But another thing about the pool scene is just that it all operates by misdirection. I mean, you’re right. You just see a few shadows. There’s maybe a couple noises that are unusual, but there’s not really any external reason why Alice would be so incredibly frightened in that scene. Right. Right. And that makes it all the scarier for us, because it’s almost like a dramatic irony kind of thing. Like we know what a scary thing awaits her, but there’s no way that she could really know that. I mean, she’s just swimming in her own home pool. She saw a little kitten as she was going in. Maybe she saw some unexplained shadows on the walls. But there’s not really any correlative to her incredible fear in that scene and the fact that she’s screaming like a slasher movie. And so that seems like misdirection. But then when you see the shredded robe, you know that something awful did happen without ever learning what. So once again, it’s that thing I’m talking about, about how this movie so effectively posits this excess of horror that’s just outside the frame, you know, is sort of like, believe me, something outside the frame is happening and it’s really scary. And somehow we do believe it.
S3: Yeah. And it’s that feeling that only the best horror moments get at how to play with our fear of what we can’t see. We don’t know. I mean, I think about the dream that’s described in the hall and drive all the. That slow creep as the dream is being described toward the back of the restaurant where a thing emerges, but it’s scary before you even get there, and then when you do finally see what comes behind, it’s also completely terrifying. I can’t even talk about it without getting sick like that, Nancy. But it’s read as such a key part of our andretti’s, something where it has to invade you a little bit. Part of the fear has to come from not being able to totally locate what the thing is. Actually, though, as you describe this with Alice, it occurs to me early in the movie when Oliver gets the cat, he brings it to work. Yeah. And our first experience of that cat is of it making really strange, aggressive noises and Alice being a person who looks up from her desk. But what is that with a sense of sort of if not outright fear, she sort of creeped out by it by this time, to your point about not knowing totally why she’s afraid at first, it’s just almost like it’s beyond plot. It’s just this fear in her doesn’t even matter if she knows for sure that someone is there and she’s going to turn into a zoo animal and come after her. That’s dread. That’s scarier to me than when you see the actual alien at the end of the movie. And that’s why when you see the actual thing at the end of a lot of movies, it’s not as scary as all the lead up is. The lead up is where the real fear is. Right.
S2: And that’s something that this movie withholds essentially the entire time. I mean, there’s a little bit of a moment in this scene that we’re about to talk about where you sort of witness the transformation from woman to cat, but essentially that space of dread. And, you know, the truly scary thing is invisible is what drives this entire movie. And how does the terrifying swimming pool scene end? Does it end with her seeing some horrible cat about to leap at her or even a shadow? No, it ends with the person that she knows, you know, seamlessly most character Irana appearing perfectly plausibly in the swimming pool and saying, you know, I’m looking for Oliver. Have you seen him? Granted, it’s a little bit odd that she would go to the woman’s apartment and find her in the pool to ask that question. But that reveal doesn’t reveal that she was behind the stalking in any way. It’s us that knows that it’s not Alice who learns it in that moment. I think the next plot development that’s important to get us to the end here is that finally the truth comes out shortly after this about Oliver and Alice, after Irina tells him that, you know, she is in fact willing to try to go forward with their marriage, that she wants to work on her strange cat obsession, that she’s been convinced by her shrink that she should try to sleep with him. Essentially, I think is the subtext of her in that conversation. He tells her that it’s too late. And again, I mean, you’ve got to be so identified whether or not you’re a mythical cat person, if you’ve ever been dumped, that horrible scene where he just says it’s too late and I’m now in love with my workmate and I’m going to divorce you.
S3: I know. Terrible. Terrible. And aren’t you supposed to be apple pie guy? Like, what is this guy, you know?
S2: Yeah. He’s posited himself as her kind of savior from the very beginning. And that is, again, something that I admire about this movie, is that all three of these characters, even Oliver and Alice, you know, the apple pie guy and his sweet workmate, I mean, everybody gets kind of their dark side and their light side. And I do believe that he wanted to get her out of her strange cat obsession and that he fell in love with her at the beginning. But, you know, it is also completely plausible that after the many red flags that have been thrown up at this point, that he would kind of go with, you know, the safety and the comfort of the Alice figure.
S3: Yeah. Which I mean, kind of again, I think that movie has already provided so much context for it, because we have to remember in the moment that Alice and Oliver sort of come to some clarity about how they feel about each other, the way that they describe their relationship in contrast to his relationship to some someone. I think I wrote it down. It’s Alice saying, I know what love is. It’s understanding. No self torture, no doubt. So the weight of this choice is not even just between two women, but it’s a way of confronting the rest of his life. For him, it’s am I going to go with no doubt full understanding, no questions, no mystery, no mythology, no dread. No woman has this thing going on with her that I don’t understand or do I go with the unknown? I mean, Oliver’s is not the most psychologically complex guy, but I feel like the movie works on both levels. It is this basic sort of romantic betrayal, but it’s also so psychologically rich that it’s really a slap for me. But he’s like making that kind of lifestyle choice. It’s not just to win it. It’s like, no, I’m going to go with what I know. I can’t go with this foreign unnamable thing. I mean, I think earlier in this conversation, you call the movie feminist. And I think this is taught that reading of the movie what it is that he is so afraid of in her.
S2: Yeah, I would agree. And that angle of the movie, what you might call the feminist angle, or I mean at least a movie that is about a woman sort of coming into her own dark side and affirming, it is really what revs up the last few horror scenes, the true horror scenes of the movie in which Irana is now totally coming into her own. That’s right, she’s owning it and enjoying it and finding her passion, owning it and what she proceeds to do with her, Katniss, is to first try to go hunt down Oliver and Alice at their workplace. I love that it’s at their workplace, which has previously been the safe place, this place of like light and normalcy and logic. And, you know, it’s not like Irena’s dark world. She goes and finds them there. This is the closest that we ever see to her transforming. Right. That’s the scene I was talking about that is just so gorgeously shot, I think, where she walks into the camera and close up. And as she does, the light fades on her face. Yeah. So rather than see her transform into a cat, you just sort of see her moving into this darkness. And then the next thing you see from fairly far away is this black cat stalking them. So you have to presume that what they saw at that moment was a true transformation. And that in itself is scary, just imagining that that is what they saw. And then also just I mean, the light value in that seem weird, stark wall, but they’re up against where he grabs that ruler. That looks like a cross. There’s a name for that special kind of crisscross ruler I can’t remember. But the idea of using an architectural tool from his work to be this Holy Cross to water off is amazing. And just the way that she corners Oliver and Alice against that wall that sort of measured off, you know, it’s like measured with some sort of architectural tools, the fact that they’re sort of in their world, their world of light and logic and work and that she is turning it into her world is just, I think, just such a beautiful composition.
S3: Yeah, I had to laugh earlier when you used the phrase Irenaeus Dark World. That really does summarise it. And yeah, I definitely agree with what you’re saying about that, seeing her walk into shadow and then something else emerges as a thing that we see one way, but the characters see the more horrifying version. We were going to have to talk about this therapist of hers. Right.
S2: So the next horror scene and I mean here it really is true horror movie logic, where it’s just sort of like everybody who crossed me must die, you know, I’m going to find wife and pick them off. So she fails to get Oliver and Alice. That time they managed to get away. But they call the doctor and say, you know, be careful because the cat woman is after you, but it’s too late. He, in fact, keeps his appointment with her and uses it to seduce her, which at first you think, why is she going for the doctor? He earlier sort of tried to make a pass at her and she rebuffed him. But this is all part of her plan and her sort of pleasure that she’s now taking and turning herself into a cat at will. And do you have anything to say about the scene where she munches her own shrink?
S3: Only that I completely support her decision. I think back to one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies. I’m an unmarried woman where there’s a scene of a therapist and he makes a pass at her and she’s like, Did you just accept me? I just would love to combine that scene with this scene. And she turns she turns into a cat and it’s can’t because, yeah, even though it’s not a surprise that he’s attracted to her, also something that we haven’t totally discussed, but that seems relevant to anyone being attracted to her. Is this you just this essence of her that she has that apparently is a man magnet, among other things, is, you know, it’s just look, he’s useful insofar as he’s useful. But really, when she eats and I think she also destroys the like the psychoanalytic framework, the treatment of the mind as a way of treating the soul. As she points out, it’s not sufficient. She doesn’t eat it, just eat it up. Get rid of it.
S2: Yeah. I mean, if we’re going to talk about Freud again, who opens, you know, or some version of him kicks off the movie with that quote, it’s like the death drive has taken over, you know, and this movie, a perfect Halloween movie. And it’s affirmation of that, that the ending of the movie, although it is sad in a way, the moment that we’re about to get to it, also has this sense of she’s come into what she is. She’s kind of given herself over to what she was always meant to be. And so there’s also a satisfaction and almost a joy in that.
S3: And also his death drive and the sentence, which I mean, he’s the head doctor. I feel like there’s a part of the movie in which he can’t be the only character here who has no relationship to an attraction to what’s dark about her. So clearly, I think she’s pulled in by the same things. And I think it’s also his death drive that you could say that pushes him to make a move toward the terror of the film, the one that he’s been treating. And he’s hypnotized her and he knows what she mumbles about. There’s a sentence which for me, he is also acting out fraud. He is destroying himself.
S2: Right. And when he appears in the dream with the sword. Right. I mean, essentially sort of saying like go forth and be a cad and kill, you know, he’s going to be one of the victims and in fact, the first human victim that the movie has of that decision. So we end the movie exactly where we started it at that Panther’s cage at the zoo. Irena takes the key that she earlier stole, sneaks back to the zoo at night. And then there’s this very fast transaction between her and the cat, where it takes almost a moment to figure out exactly what happens, given that she herself. Transforms into a cat during the course of the sequence, but basically she frees the panther and then if I’m correct, the panther kills her, right. Although when you see her lying on the ground, she also has a broken sword sticking out of her back. So maybe it was Dr. Judd who killed her and she just got finished off by the panther at the zoo. The Panther then escapes and is immediately hit by a car. I don’t know exactly why that happens, because it seems like a perfect setup for a sequel that that Panther would get away. Right. And get you to go out and kill people. Very shortly after that, Oliver and Alice pull up and discover where we saw a dead Seimone simul, lying there with the sword sticking out of her body. They see a dead panther. So it’s like the transformation has finally happened. She’s kind of assumed her true form. And then there’s this incredible last line. I mean, like, is there any better last line to a low budget horror movie than Oliver saying to Alice, she never lied to us. And then they get up and walk away. The camera pulls back on the zoo and that’s the end of the movie. But something about that, she never lied to us. It’s just an extraordinary, extraordinary ending to the movie, I think. I mean, it makes you rethink everything that came before. It shows you that Oliver, in fact, has lost something. Right. He’s lost some of his innocence and his belief in sort of American science and apple pie and the clearing away of old world superstition. He is kind of letting in the dark by saying she never lied to us.
S4: And then World War Two happens. No, just kidding. I don’t think the connection is that immediate, obviously.
S3: But no, I think you’re completely right. I mean, you do wonder how this must rock the world of bees to proud of being sort of normal people, like a real encounter with the other world beyond the eye candy. And I think really one of the successes of this movie is that even by the end, the mystery has not left. Even as you know, things sort of clarify themselves, maybe a little bit spotlights, I still at the end feel this very pleasurable lack of resolution in terms of I mean, we met another woman like her. How many of those Panther’s interviews are women like her, like at the symbolic levels of the movie and the real fears that it just kind of looks at me as I watch are still with me. This just sets me up to just keep thinking about about women in particular.
S2: Yeah. Make you understand why the curse of the cat people came about. I mean, not just because of the success of this movie, but I would want a sequel if I saw this in 1942 and it ended. And on that strange note of she never lied to us and then walking away, I would want to know, what is this world of cat people? What else could happen? Who are the other cat people in the world? How do they find each other? It seems very franchise worthy in that sense. And as we wrap our discussion of this movie, I want to mention that we had a listener who wrote in. I wasn’t the only reason we decided to do it. I think Halloween also played into my decision to do Cat People this week. But we did have a listener, Michael McKechnie, who wrote in asking for a Valentine movie in general and specifically for Cat People. So, Michael, thank you for that suggestion. And I hope you liked our conversation about it. I also wanted to recommend for people who watch this on Criterion, which I really recommend doing, you can find some great extras on there. There’s an entire commentary by I’m not going remember his name right now by a film scholar who really knows a lot about this period and RKO Horror Films. And it’s a great listen. Then there’s a documentary about Valentine called The Man in the Shadows. That’s just a few minutes longer than the movie is slightly over an hour. It’s narrated by Martin Scorsese, which is great. And it’s just got so many juicy facts about Valentin, including the fact that I didn’t know that he was the nephew of Alan Asimov, who was this great Russian actress in the silent era, who’s sort of known for her incredibly bizarre persona and costumes and the kind of lesbian underworld that she operated in Hollywood. Nzima is a whole character in and of herself I’ve always been fascinated with. And so the idea that she was the of gluten and in fact was quite closely involved in his childhood and helped his mother bring him up, gives me more understanding of the mystery of his character. So, yeah, if you watch this, check out the extras on Criterion as well. So Kam, in the ping pong game of our flashback choices, which are reciprocal, each time your turn might turn it once again, your turn to what are you inspired to talk about in two weeks.
S3: So one of my favorite things about capital has always been Jane Randolph, who plays Alice in this movie, because usually I misremember this movie and think that they’re not working in chip design, but that they’re working at a newspaper office because that is where her performance reminds me of a little bit. She’s not like a fast talking kind of dame character, but she does have the unsurprised, all straightforward New York no. At all intelligent, competent woman thing.
S2: Yeah, absolutely. She’s that wry kind of working woman. Exactly. Getting a lot of great lines.
S3: So that call to mind one of my other favorite variations on that kind of women’s role from this era, except for a movie from the 90s, a comedy. Let’s see if you see where I’m going with this, starring Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, directed by the Coen Brothers. And, yes, The Hudsucker Proxy. Hudsucker Proxy, yes.
S2: This is one of the least talked about Coen brothers movies that it when people are doing their various lists and rankings and I you and I, I know. Feel the same way about these like random rankings.
S3: Every time any director who has more than five movies does anything we have to remember.
S2: It’s just a I personally only rank things when I’m being paid. And even then I would prefer to try to get out of it. But I notice that on such rankings, the Hudsucker Proxy rarely makes an appearance. And I think it’s one of their most interesting movies. I mean, if only for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance alone. I’m so excited to talk about that with you.
S3: This is one of those reasons why I love to watch a film without knowing what the reception of it is. Because Hudsucker, for me, I only saw it for the first time, maybe five or six years ago. But I love this movie. I think it is hilarious. I think a thing that’s in right now in terms of like pop culture and slang is himbo male bimbo. I think that Tim Robbins and this movie is about and it that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance in this movie is deeply misunderstood and is so great. You know, I mean, it’s the Coen brothers. We could do any number of their movies. I love any number of their films. I’m sorry. I’m going to make you guys do the Tim Robbins hula hooping. Yeah, it’s just one of those willis’ that a lot of people don’t like, but that I think it is worth revisiting with a sympathetic guy because I think it’s hilarious. Great music, great scripts. I can’t wait.
S2: Yeah. I can’t think of a Cohen that I’d rather discuss, if only because I’ve not had a conversation about it, I believe since it came out and I saw it on the big screen.
S3: Oh you saw on the big screen and so.
S2: Oh, I’m sure I did, yeah, I mean, whenever possible would try to catch one of their movies on the big screen when it first opened, so.
S3: So this is yeah, this is one that’s available to rent from wherever you would like to read it on iTunes, Amazon, Google, YouTube, etc.. But I can’t wait. Going to be yelled at for help. No, I don’t think it was me. I mean, I don’t. I really do think that people if they get a chance like it, I think it’s hilarious.
S2: All right. The Hudsucker Proxy it is. Watch it over the next two weeks and join us back here.
S1: Our producer, as always, is Chow, too, who also edits the show and helps us put it together and is in general the guru behind the scenes, a flashback. You can as always, write us at Flashback at Slate Dotcom if you have feedback about this episode or ideas for future movies to discuss. And as always, of course, thank you so much for being Slate plus members. We really appreciate your support. We would not be able to do this show or many of the other great thing Slate podcasts are trying to do without that help. All right, Cam, thanks very much. And I’ll talk to you in two weeks. Talk to you soon.