Cat People (1942) was Val Lewton’s first production for RKO pictures. He agreed to produce low-budget horror films for under $150,000. The only other stipulation was the studio provided the titles, what Lewton made with that title was up to him.
Simone Simon stars as a young fashion designer who believes that she will transform into a panther if aroused with passion. It’s a part of a curse that her ancestors believed was brought on them. She meets Kent Smith, who falls in love with and marries her. Smith believes the curse is merely a mental illness and that she needs psychiatric help. He sends her to psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) who tries to help her. But things go bad when another woman enters the picture.
Stylish and moody, director Jacques Tourneur would go on to direct some awesome film noir movies (Out of the Past, Berlin Express). Unlike Universal’s horror movies, there is no monster transformation scenes. In fact Simon’s panther attacks are shadowy and elusive. Originally Lewton and Tourneur didn’t even want to show a cat but the studio forced them to shoot some footage of the panthe. Lewton demanded that the cat be kept in the shadows, which actually builds the suspense in the film. Less is sometimes more.