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The Cat's Meow

Cat People – Retrospettiva

The Cat's Meow

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The making of Cat People (1942) is the stuff Hollywood legends are made of. Shot in only eighteen days on a shoestring budget, using pre-existing sets on the RKO lot, including ones from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, it turned out to be the biggest career hit for both producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur.

Tourneur had just been let go by MGM, and was desperately looking for another assignment, after several ups and downs between Hollywood and France. Lewton, who was mainly a writer and had worked, uncredited, on the script of Gone with the Wind, had just been hired by RKO as the head of their horror department, and had been given three capital rules by the studio: each film that he would produce had to come in under a budget of US$ 150,000, they could not be longer than 75 minutes, and he could not decide their release title, which was the task of the marketing department.

It is a very well known fact that many times under the most difficult circumstances, real cinematic art shines through, and of course the hiring of Tourneur was the key asset of turning Cat People from a formulaic bottom-of-the-double-bill horror into the extremely successful cult movie it is.

The box office results of Cat People at the time – it played for more than two years – allowed Lewton and Tourneur to establish their names in Hollywood. They partnered together with I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Tourneur and Italian-born cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca worked their magic with light and shadows on another RKO classic, quintessential film noir Out of the Past (1947).

Massimo Benvegnú
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