In 2007 I started exploring the world of 1940s and 1950s horror films, and was pleasantly surprised by how good many of them were. I also started making an effort to see all of the Oscar winners for best picture that I hadn't seen yet, with some being great, others not so (and I have only Cavalcade and Wings to go to complete the list). Coming in at #8 is one of each.
Cat People (1942)
This was my first foray into the works of producer Val Lewton, and it served to be a truly wonderful introduction. They sure don’t make horror like they used to. Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur give us frightening world that derives it’s scares not through jump scenes and gore, but through an increasingly eerie atmosphere, where what the audience does not see is more frightening than what it does. There are several memorable moments in the film, but the standout here is one in which a young lady is trapped in a dark indoor swimming pool while being stalked by what may or may not be a giant cat. It may not sound very scary on paper, but on screen it is wonderfully effective.
I just couldn’t get into this film, and it covered way too much ground for one movie. I guess it was supposed to be the history of Oklahoma told through the trials of one family, much like Giant is the story of Texas, but it appealed to me even less than Giant did (which wasn’t very much). It started promisingly with an ambitions dramatization of the Oklahoma land rush, but it was all pretty much downhill from there. It was also sadly ironic in that while Richard Dix’s Yancey is so fired up for Indian’s rights, the depiction of all the African American characters is heavy handed and shameful. When their African American servant (practically still a slave) is shot by a Billy the Kid knock-off, my first thought was, "How sad. He shot their pet Negro." The film also seems to glamorize Yancey’s lack of commitment to his wife and children, leaving them for years on end to satisfy his wanderlust.