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RAMBLING PERSPECTIVE OF 'CAT PEOPLE' ORIGINAL & REMAKE

year: 1942 cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith • year: 1982 cast: Nastassja Kinski, John Heard, Malcolm McDowell
The main difference between the original Film Noir CAT PEOPLE produced by b-movie king Val Lewton, and directed with artistic, mesmerizing prowess by Lewton's stock director Jacques Tourneur, and the 1982 remake directed by TAXI DRIVER scribe and HARDCORE director Paul Schrader, is that at one point, a distinguished gentleman, in the original, looks at a woman about to cause a subtle scene in front of our always out-of-place ingenue Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna Reed... especially nervous around her fiance's fancy restaurant-dwelling cronies... as the man points out, casually: "She looks like a cat."

Remake Foreign Poster
And Simone is also mentioned as resembling a feline, and tells her man, right up front, a back story involving the CAT PEOPLE history (proving that a pretty face will make a guy stick around for anything), and that she still fears they might return, having to do with an historic sword-wielding saint, so the suspense is mounted on the main character as opposed to the remake's overall gloomy aura as Nastassja Kinski's Irene... who would don a bear suit two-years later in THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE... is never actually compared to a cat, no matter how fast she (surreptitiously) climbs walls and trees, and initially, after an eerie prologue involving the first step of bestiality showing how everything began, she visits her brother, Paul, played by a gaunt Malcolm McDowell, giving her a strong enough feeling of who she is when he, later on, turns into a panther, and is locked inside a zoo that, in the original, is hardly seen and only heard outside Simone's window: her mere scent stirs up groans, growls and even leopard screams... While Kinski's man not only works for the zoo but is pretty much in charge, unlike Kent Smith's Oliver Reed (what a name!), a stuffy yet laidback, open-minded and completely smitten businessman who, even after hearing the CAT PEOPLE tale from his uniquely-gorgeous girlfriend turned fiance turned wife, is what John Heard, a far more interesting, fleshed-out and less mannequin-like leading man, has to slowly figure about the cat he captured, who Malcolm McDowell takes full control of instead of Kinski, splitting the felines into two leading roles and making the remake more investigative than atmospheric, both sharing a few similar scenes; like a dark, shadowy, spooky poolside stalking scene we'll get to later...

Original Original's poster
The original is led mostly by intriguing dialogue while ironically, director Schrader, one of the best screenplay writers of the 1970's and early 1980's, allows David Bowie's haunting theme variation along with an overall purple-dark aesthetic to prologue a story based on what, in 1942, was, during the first half, more like reading a book than a visual experience...

Which isn't to say director Tourneur doesn't make fantastic use of Noir shadows and rich, sublime timing to drive his story along in a spooky fashion: it just takes a little while to become fully intriguing as the remake sparks right off the bat: like when Kinski's Irene wanders around her New Orleans location and gets in closer with the Zoo, where her aforementioned captured brother (McDowell), in black leopard form, is kept, and she, at first, merely flirts with zoo-researcher Heard, and because of him she gets a job in the toy store: this Zoo being the prime setting wherein a fantastically modern bloody death occurs, teaching poor Ed Begley Jr.'s rude average Joe animal feeder to respect the leopard who isn't what it (he) seems...

Main tune can be heard with S.R. Vaughan on guitar on LET'S DANCE
And unlike the original's rushed chemistry/relationship of the main couple, meeting and falling in love as quick as it would take a house cat to eat a small can of wet food, it takes Kinski and Heard at least a few dates and tours within the Zoo for that relationship to eventually pan out, despite subliminal curious jealousy from Heard's pretty co-worker played by Annette O'Toole, who kind of resembles Reed's workmate girl/friend in the original. Ironically, the film declines once an escaped McDowell turns back into human form, and, with less dialogue than ever, not even written by Schrader himself, the good couple take to rural backroads into a swamp area as we catch modern glimpses of sexually steamy scenes of McDowell's Paul with bimbo/hooker Tessa Richard as well as Heard sealing the deal with Kinski, thus losing the mystery-driven aura of the original (or any vintage Noir), turning what's initially ambiguous and suspense-driven into an average though different kind of New Wave, sexually-driven horror flick...

Simone Simon
But only "different" thanks to its source led by the delicious beauty of Simone, making everything else pale to her moody, spooked expressions (even captivating Tom Conway as a brilliant shrink) as the story evolves beneath her powerful countenance that, unlike the remake, gets better along the way: as our ingenue turns into her true self and her jealousy mounts, so does the intensity within the Noir/Horror setting...

Especially one scene as we, through intense editing, follow two pairs of echoing high heels along the dark street: the other shoes belonging to her husband's workmate, who had earlier admitted her love to the downright sappy married man in a scene more befitting a typical melodrama/romance playing on TCM...

But what the original CAT PEOPLE really narrows down to is the difference of that important pool sequence that, in the remake, is a mere cog in a body count horror vehicle... the woman being stalked is an innocent, unimportant victim, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, while in 1942, the surprise visit involves Simone's husband's lover, and is an essential revenge scene that may have you rooting for the title character, who isn't just part of the overall setting: she IS the setting.

RATINGS: 1942 ORIGINAL: **** 1982 REMAKE: ***1/2
TRIVIA: The actress who played the woman stalked at the swimming pool in the remake was the wife of Anthony Perkins, who died on one of the planes during 911. And this post is a subliminal tribute to musician David Bowie, who died last week and provides a wonderfully eerie lead track that can be heard with the late Steve Ray Vaughan on lead guitar on the classic LET'S DANCE album, as well as a slower version on the movie's actual soundtrack. Hell, just own both. All artwork is amazing, even on the new Shout Factory Blu Ray.
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