Thursday, October 26, 2023

An Appreciation of Simone Simon's Performance in Cat People (1942)


Simone Simon photographed by Ernest Bacharach in a publicity photo for Cat People (1942).
From my personal collection.

With Halloween quickly approaching, I wanted to spotlight a performance that I have appreciated since I was a teenager. When I was in high school, I remember watching quite a few of Val Lewton's produced films for RKO Pictures from the 1940's and I found them incredibly fascinating to watch. My favorite of these films is Cat People (1942). Don't let the title put you off from watching this film! The basic plot of the film is this: Irena (Simone Simon) is a talented fashion designer, who hails from Serbia. She now lives in New York City. At Central Park, she meets a Marine Engineer named Oliver (Kent Smith). They fall in love and eventually marry. Irena lives in fear of the stories from her people in Serbia. Specifically, about "The Cat People". Irena believes that she has descended from an Ancient Tribe of "Cat People", who turn into Black Panthers when they are aroused. Irena starts seeing a psychiatrist named Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) to help her get over her fears of "The Cat People". There is another woman in the picture in regards to Irena's husband Oliver, her name is Alice (Jane Randolph) and she is Oliver's co-worker. Problems arise and and everything ends tragically for poor Irena. 

Simone Simon is not an actress that I have seen many films of, but she is quite good in Cat People (1942). She was very beautiful and mysterious. Simon makes you feel sympathy and sadness for Irena. She wants to have a normal life and wants to be in love. But, she is so afraid of this curse that she possesses. You can understand why Irena is jealous of Alice. Here Irena is married and it is very clear that her husband Oliver is in love with Alice and vice versa. Unfortunately, Irena has a weak husband and a doctor who lets say goes way beyond the line of a healthy doctor/patient relationship. Irena does not have people in her life who are really looking out for her and or have her best interest at heart. The scene where Irena was trying to touch her pet bird (that Oliver gave her as a present) was sad because the bird passed away from fear. Irena did not want the bird to die, but it did. Simon's performance was not flashy. It was subdued and tragic. The scene where Irena is taking a bath after an unfortunate incident is heartbreaking. You can feel that this woman is truly suffering with what she is dealing with. An inner conflict with herself. As I said earlier, you feel nothing but pity for Irena and that is due to Simon's wonderful performance.

I could go on about how magnificent this film is and how highly I recommend for everyone to watch it, but that is for another post. Simone Simon's performance is one of the highlights of Cat People (1942). And you can watch her play Irena again in the sequel to this film, Curse of the Cat People (1944), which is another marvelous film! You can purchase Cat People (1942) from Criterion, either on Blu-ray or DVD! Happy Spooky Season everyone!

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