Friday, April 10, 2015

White Heat

She is darkness, love, magic, passion, spirit, mystery, lustre, the sacred -- from a world where the blood has a different throb. And what is she (Simone Simon) tortured and finally murdered by? White bread efficiency and workload, Park Avenue psychoanalysis, the daily, the practical, the shadowless. She murders too: a preposterously rouĂ© analyst who sets up a secret rendezvous with her, but cannot come close to satisfying her lust. Irena’s refusal to sleep with Oliver (Kent Smith), her husband, is a blank space in the movie. For he is sexless (or gay), yet she seems to truly love him. Or perhaps it’s merely her fatigue toward being separate and alone. Her real tragedy. And ours ~ the literal driving lust out of the wind and out of the attic, out of all the lost primitive places.

Cat People (1942) is Jacques Tourneur’s first masterpiece and bears comparison to his greatest work, Out of the Past from five years later: Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is also destroyed by the pull between the darkness of Kathie (Jane Greer) and the bland safety of Ann (Virginia Huston). It was made during the fatal turn the culture took from the screwball gangster Berkeley 30s toward the Mrs. Miniver/Going My Way 40s, when Hollywood (with major, major exceptions) moved strongly toward Greer Garson and Gregory Peck, away from Cagney and Lombard. As the husband, his future wife (Curse of the Cat People), and the soon-to-be-devoured psychiatrist bloodlessly decide to put Irena away, so too did movies lock away the speed, joy, mad love, and wit that made them great, as we shifted into the ever monotonous and slowing Forties. (With major exceptions.)