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Criterion Collection Blu-ray Release: Cat People (1942)

For the first time on Blu-ray, the movie known for its look, looks the best it ever has. We’d expect nothing less from the Criterion Collection, who today (Sept. 20) releases the 1942 classic, Cat People. Besides a pristine, 2K digital restoration, the disc features:

  • Audio commentary from 2005 featuring film historian Gregory Mank, with excerpt from an audio interview with actor Simone Simon

  • Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a 2008 feature-length documentary that explores the life and career of the legendary Hollywood producer

  • Interview with director Jacques Tourneur from 1977

  • New interview with cinematographer John Bailey about the look of the film (see below)

  • TrailerEssay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien (see below)

Altogether, it’s a terrific package and a must-have for not just classic horror fans, but for movie fans in general.

John Bailey on Cat People

In the new interview, cinematographer John Bailey discuss seeing the original movie for the first time when he was prepping for the remake with director Paul Schrader. He admits the biggest difference between the two: “it was elusive rather than explicit.”

He also talks about the differences between film noir cinematography by John Alton and Nicholas Musuraca. While the former is considered a maverick of the style, the latter “lived in the shadows.” They worked differently. On Cat People, Musuraca had a budget, which meant they used very small sets and had to hide or create a sense of space through the lighting.

The 16-minute feature ends with Bailey discussing the famous swimming pool scene. In the 1982 remake, he used a crane over the pool so that the audience would be with Annette O’Toole. They couldn’t do that in 1942, so we’re looking at Jane Randolph instead. If there’s anything congruent in the two movies, Bailey says it’s this scene. That’s because “we didn’t think we could do it any better.”

“Darkness Betrayed” by Geoffrey O’Brien

In a new essay printed on the opposite side of a beautiful, black and white poster inside the Blu-ray case, Geoffrey O’Brien, editor in chief of Library of America, says Cat People “presents us with a series of unforgettable moments and obliges us to imagine connections among them.” After relating a brief history of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, O’Brien reflects upon the movie itself.

He discusses how Cat People is a film about a failed marriage. “Irena’s predicament was calculated to evoke whole realms of sexual anxiety that the Production Code had effectively banned from Hollywood product, much as the immigration department might seek to bar undesirable aliens.”

He further states, “The actual supernatural menace in Cat People – which takes a long time to arrive – in a way comes as a relief from watching the disintegration of Irena and Oliver’s relationship.” I appreciate O’Brien’s comments, particularly when you feel beforehand there’s nothing left to say about this classic film.


Written by DeWitt Bodeen Directed by Jacques Tourneur Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph Released December 5, 1942 (New York City) RT 73 min. Home Video The Criterion Collection

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