La Feline
February 23, 2005 12:02 PM   Subscribe

"You can fool everybody, but landie dearie me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know who's not right". The psychoanalyst calmly explains to his patient that her idea that she is turning into a member of the cat family is a fantasy; she silences him with fang and talon.
Val Lewton made his name as a producer with the horror film Cat People, produced for RKO on a minuscule budget and directed by Jacques Tourneur. The star? French actress Simone Simon, who died today in Paris aged 93. More inside.
posted by matteo (6 comments total)
In a Life magazine interview (Feb. 25, 1946), Lewton expressed the reason for his success when he said:

"I’ll tell you a secret: if you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it they want! We’re great ones for dark patches. … The horror addicts will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of.”
Russian-born Vladimir Ivan Leventon (Val Lewton), after a stint as story person for David O. Selznick, formed an unusual production unit at RKO in 1942. The studio granted Lewton almost complete artistic freedom, provided he turned films out quickly (within a month or so) and cheaply (typically $250,000 or less). Cat People, the unit's first release, achieved tremendous popular success, becoming a cultural phenomenon. Leopard Man, his third film, more closely resembles a psychological mystery than a true horror film, though one or two terrifying moments (what Lewton called a "bus," according to film scholar Joel E. Siegel) will send your pulse rate soaring. The spooky atmosphere shows up well in tonight's beautiful print made by the staff of the Library's own Motion Picture Conservation Center, located in Dayton, Ohio.
posted by matteo at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2005

Simon was also cast in Jean Renoir's La Bête Humaine
posted by matteo at 12:09 PM on February 23, 2005

During 1942, Simon was watched by the FBI as she was dating double agent Dusko Popov * who worked for the British MI5. She gave him a loan of £10,000 late in 1942 before he left for Lisbon. She quit Popov in Spring 1943, apparently not recouping the loan.

* Popov was also asked by the Germans during his trip to America to gather sensitive information about the U.S. Pacific naval base of Pearl Harbor.
A document referring to the German request was dated August 1941, just months before Japan attacked the key base and caught the U.S. Navy completely unawares.

posted by matteo at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Cat People was indeed a great movie. It also has the distinction of having one of the most unusal sequals ever made. Cat People is a dark, moody, atmospheric horror film. Curse of the Cat People, despite it's lurid title, is not a horror movie. It is a fascinating study of the fantasy life of a little girl and how the memory of a doomed soul affects those she left behind. Highly recommended!
posted by berek at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2005

I love the second photo of her (from Cat People) on this page. Rest in peace, Simone.

(Also, a Metroactive article on Val Lewton, with this great snippet: "Lewton's films are a total disappointment to gorehounds, though. The ghastliest moment in all his films occurs in The Leopard Man: a few tablespoons of blood oozing under a door. Lewton later apologized for that excess.".)
posted by taz at 3:07 AM on February 24, 2005

According to the Numbers web site, Cat People is also #19 on the list of the most profitable movies ever made, measured as a return on investment.
posted by jonp72 at 6:30 PM on February 24, 2005

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