The 25 Must-See Titles at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

9 of 26

Jane Randolph, Simone Simon and Kent Smith in Cat People. Image courtesy of Warner Home Video.

Cat People (1942)

A man marries a mysterious foreign girl who fears she’ll turn into a cat.

Cat People has a premise so wacky you have to watch it to make sense of it. Producer Val Lewton was a master of suspense, and many of his movies started with just a title, allowing him to craft the story around it. In this case, Cat People isn’t just about a woman who fears she’ll turn into a cat. Like any good Lewton production the “cat person” is a metaphor for everything from sexual repression to xenophobia.

French actress Simone Simon captivates as the frightened Irena, but part of the fun is watching the ambiguity in her performance. Is she truly afraid she’ll become a literal cat? And if she is, does she enjoy the knowledge that it will happen? Simon has a cat-like grace to her, from the way she walks to the way she playfully tries to catch a bird in her hands. Cat People also establishes the film term “Lewton bus,” used to describe any loud or surprising scare that comes out of nowhere. Also be sure to take note of the spooky cinematography during a scene in a swimming pool. Cat People always leaves me with more questions than answers; it’s got serious rewatch value.

Next: The Court Jester