Tuesday, February 28, 2017
FILM REVIEW OF ''CAT PEOPLE" (1982)
“American Gigolo” writer & director Paul Schrader and “Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile” scenarist Allen Ormsby remade director Jacques Tourneur’s eerie, shape-shifting saga “Cat People” that DeWitt Bodeen wrote for RKO Pictures producer Val Lewton in 1942. By and large, these two films differ more often than they resemble each other. Tourneur’s atmospheric, black and white, 73-minute original left much to the imagination since it was released while the Production Code Administration ruled Hollywood with an iron fist, and Schrader’s 118-minute adaptation left little to the imagination. Comparably, the 1942 creature feature surpasses its remake. Nevertheless, Schrader and Ormsby have forged a horror film that is still stimulating to watch despite its many shortcomings. The two films show how much Hollywood changed between 1942 and 1982. Many things that the respective filmmakers dealt with changed in terms of the frankness of their depiction. Mind you, Simone Simon never disrobed in the original, whereas Nastassja Kinski had no qualms about cavorting about in the nude. Reportedly, the actress requested that her nude scenes be cut from the finished film, but the studio preserved them in tact in spite of her wishes. The two films deal with a virgin who leaves her native land and comes to America where she encounters situations that bring about changes in her demeanor. In the original, Irena is a refugee from a Middle-European country, and in the remake Irena hails from Africa. The chief difference between the two movies is the ending. Anybody who hasn’t seen either film should stop reading this brief analysis at this point because the revelations may spoil your appreciation of the films. In the 1942 version, Irena is doomed to die because she is an evil creature, but the 1982 version displays greater optimism because Irena survives and lives out her life as a black leopard albeit confined to a zoo. Schrader’s film changed the occupation of Oliver and Alice. Whereas they worked in a ship-building firm in the first film, Oliver and Alice work at the New Orleans Zoo in the second. Oliver and Irena were never allowed to consummate their marriage in the first film. Although Oliver and Irena never got married in Schrader’s epic, they engaged in sex twice. Tom Conway’s womanizing psychiatrist has no counterpart in Schrader’s film. The two films do share similar scenes. For example, Schrader’s film duplicates the scene with a woman who recognizes Irena and comments about their common origins. The scene in the swimming pool when Irena stalks Alice is staged with less atmosphere than the original. Oliver alone confronts Paul instead of Irena while wielding a drafting ruler in a manner similar to how Kent Smith did in the original.
Schrader’s remake (*** OUT OF ****) relocates the story to New Orleans, and Irena arrives to be reunited with her long, lost brother Paul Gallier (Malcolm McDowell of “A Clockwork Orange”) who has spent his life searching for her. Paul fails to consummate the incestuous relationship that he yearns for with the virginal Irena. We learn from expository dialogue sequences that their parents engaged in incest and ran their own circus. Nevertheless, Schrader and Ormsby leave out a lot regarding the origins of these characters. In the opening, we see tribesman tie a young woman to a tree as a sacrificial lamb for a black leopard to do with as the beast sees fit. Remarkably, the leopard doesn’t shred the girl, but it seems to embrace her. Later, she is taken to the cave where the beast lives and enters it, but we see nothing that occurs thereafter between the two. Paul Gallier has led a secretive life and he has a mysterious African-American, Female (Ruby Dee of “Do The Right Thing”) who serves as his housekeeper. When she meets Irena, Female explains her own orphaned origins and the nature of her name. All Paul wants is to have sex with Irena, but our heroine doesn’t share either his inclination or his alacrity. She rebels and strikes out into the Crescent City. Meantime, Paul behaves like a serial killer of sorts who arranges clandestine rendezvous with women and kills them. He fails when he tries to eat a hooker and winds up trapped in a hotel room after the hooker, Ruthie (Lynn Lowry of “The Crazies”), manages to escape from the premises. She tumbles down the stairs in the hotel and has a wardrobe malfunction. Paul transforms into a cat and leaves behind a placenta of sorts. Nobody can figure out how a black leopard came to be in the hotel room with the hooker. The authorities summon Oliver Yates from the New Orleans Zoo to capture the animal and remove it. Eventually, Irena discovers Paul’s presence in the zoo and she has an encounter one evening after closing hours when Oliver confronts her. She was sketching a picture of the black leopard behind bars that she believes is her brother. Oliver and Irena met under similar circumstances in the original. They fall in love, but things become complicated.
Although Schrader’s film isn’t a classic like its Lewton produced predecessor, the “Cat People” remake is still a fascinating film.