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Serbian national Irena Dubrovna, a fashion sketch artist, has recently arrived in New York for work. The first person who she makes a personal connection with there is marine engineer Oliver Reed. The two fall in love and get married despite Irena's reservations, not about Oliver but about herself. She has always felt different than other people, but has never been sure why. She lives close to the zoo, and unlike many of her neighbors is comforted by the sounds of the big cats emanating from the zoo. And although many see it purely as an old wives' tale, she believes the story from her village of ancient residents being driven into witchcraft and evil doing, those who managed to survive by escaping into the mountains. After seeing her emotional pain, Oliver arranges for her to see a psychiatrist to understand why she believes what she does. In therapy, Dr. Judd, the psychiatrist, learns that she also believes, out of that villagers' tale, that she has descended from this evil - women ...Written by
RKO gave Val Lewton only $150,000 to make the film, resulting in "creative" producing. This forced many of the scenes requiring special effects to be done in shadows, which many believe increased the suspense of the film. When studio execs insisted that more footage of the panther be included in the movie, Lewton was able to maintain the budget and the suspense of the film by limiting how many scenes the panther could be visibly seen in, and by telling the cinematographer to "keep the panther in the shadows." Thus, the panther was only visible in the office and zoo cage. See more »
When Dr. Judd leaves his cane in the apartment, he tucks it into the sofa cushions. When he returns to the apartment to retrieve it, it is leaning against the sofa. See more »
Oliver 'Ollie' Reed:
Its the lions in the zoo. One can hear them here often. Many people in this building complain. Their roaring keeps them awake.
Oliver 'Ollie' Reed:
But you don't mind it?
No. To me its the way the sound of the sea is to others. Natural and soothing. I like it. Some nights there is another sound. The panther. It screams like a woman. I don't like that.
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[From the closing credits] "But black sin hath betrayed to endless night. My world, both parts, and both parts must die." - "Holy Sonnets" - John Donne See more »
One doesn't want for a second to take credit away from screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, one of the most intelligent scenarists the horror film evr had the benefit of. But it's a matter of record that producer Val Lewton, here as on all his horror pictures, was responsible for the initial premise and the screenplay's final draft. And one wonders how much of Lewton - one of those male writers who tended to form his most empathetic bond with his female characters - there is in Irene: like him an eastern european immigrant (she from Serbia, he from Russia, albeit second generation he grew up in an essentially Russian household) living in the very different world of 40's America, both hyper-sensitive (particularly over morbid fantasies regarding cats) and artists of an essentially solitary and modest nature, but prone to fits of violent temper. Certainly, Irene is one of the most vivid and haunting protagonists any horror film ever had. Some critics may disparage the film as inferior to its follow-up, 'I Walked With a Zombie', but although that's a more completely achieved work, none of its characters captures the imagination as Irene does. One scarcely needs to heap more praise on the most celebrated suspense sequences, but the rest of the movie is more than just a set-up for these. It is, for one thing, oneof the supreme evocations of spiritual loneliness in the cinema. As Irene huddles by the doorknob between her and husband Oliver, while the panther in the nearby zoo calls out through the wintery night, this is an evocation of an isolation more than merely physical and tragically irrevocable. Lewton also had on his side, in this instance, the best of his directors, Jacques Tourneur, a sensualist (which could scarecely be said of his successors, Mark Robson and Robert Wise) who makes of the story a sort of tactile poem in the textures of the black fur of Irene's coat, the silk of her stockings, the flakes of falling snow on Irene and Oliver's wedding night, the wet tarmac across which Jane Randolph has to make her scary walk home, the ebony of an Egyptian cat-statue, the fabric of a couch torn by Irene's fingernails, the white enamel of Irene's bath-tub and the gleaming dusky hunch of her wet shoulders as she sits weeping within. This is a subtle movie, but also an intensely physical one. If there is a weak spot, it lies with the casting of Kent Smith as 'good plain Americano' Oliver Reed. His boy next door charm is hopelessly inadequate to the context of Irene's drama and he increasingly seems doltish and blindly insensitive in the blandness of his responses to her torment. The film might have been greater still if Lewton had cast an edgier, fierier actor, one whose incomprehension of Irene might have betrayed its own violent streak and extended the 'catpeople' metaphor beyond Irene herself. Think of someone like John Garfield in the role! But Garfield would have been out of Lewton's budget range and one can scarcely harangue the producer for being too modest, in the production of his first quickie horror, for fully grasping how rich a work of film poetry he and his collaborators were in the process of creating. But poetry it is. The horror genre has never produced as much of that as it ought to have done, so for heaven's sake, make the most of this and the other Lewton productions.
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