The horror movie technique of slowly building tension to a jarring shock which turns out to be something completely harmless and benign became known as a "Lewton bus" after a famous scene in this movie created by producer Val Lewton.
The film was in theaters for so long that critics who had originally bashed the film were able to see it again and many rewrote their reviews with a more positive spin.
Because of the incredibly tight budget, sets from Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) were re-used.
When "The Cat Woman" (played, uncredited, by Elizabeth Russell) speaks to Irina in Serbian and calls her "my sister", Russell's dialog is dubbed by Simone Simon,
The film was such a hit at the box office, the releases of the next two Lewton films (I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Leopard Man (1943)) were delayed.
Filmed in 18 days.
The suits at RKO were reportedly dubious about the finished film. It was too subtle and possibly not overt enough to compete with Universal's brand of horror.
The opening credits end with a quote attributed to "Dr. Louis Judd," which is the name of the psychiatrist character in the movie.
Supervisor Lou L. Ostrow was so dissatisfied with the style of the movie he wanted to replace director Jacques Tourneur after four days of filming. Producer Val Lewton got studio head Charles Koerner to reinstate Tourneur, and when Ostrow insisted on the panther appearing in the drafting room sequence, Lewton had Tourneur use low lighting putting the panther in the shadows.
Near the end of filming, two units were shooting around the clock to speed completion of the film. During the night, one unit would film the animals for the Central Park sequence, while during the day, the other unit would be working with the actors.
R.K.O. 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 and told the cinematographer to "keep the panther in the shadows." Thus the panther was only visible in the office and zoo cage.
Val Lewton reportedly sought Simone Simon for this film after seeing her performance in All That Money Can Buy (1941).
The black leopard Dynamite appeared in another film by the same producers/directors: The Leopard Man (1943).
Val Lewton came very close to being fired after only three days of shooting. Lou L. Ostrow, the head of RKO's B-unit, had looked at the first three days of rushes and was not happy with what he saw. Ostrow wanted Lewton out, but was ultimately overruled by RKO chief Charles Koerner who was happy with Lewton's work and wanted him to continue.
The Central Park Zoo set had previously been used in numerous RKO productions, including several Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers musicals.
Cat People is the first film Molina narrates for Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985).
The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
Jennifer Jones was considered for the role of Alice.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Val Lewton originally wanted to adapt Algernon Blackwood's short story "Ancient Sorceries". However, since the story is set in a French village in the nineteenth century, the costume and set costs would have gone over budget, and went for an original story set in modern times. Some elements of Blackwood's short story served as inspiration for Irina's backstory in Serbia.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
In her scene, Elizabeth Russell is very reminiscent of the later, TV series original cat woman, Julie Newmar. Interestingly enough, Russell's part is credited as "The Cat Woman". It leaves to wonder whether the Batman (1966) producers were indeed inspired by this lady when casting their own similar role.
A July 1942 item places Carl Brisson in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed.
Original trade reviews appeared Friday the 13 November 1942.
Several actors in studio records and casting call lists did not appear in the movie. These were (with their character names) George Ford (Whistling cop), Leda Nicova (Patient), and Bud Geary (Mounted policeman).
This film's initial television presentation took place in Hartford CT Friday 2 March 1956 on WGTH (Channel 18), followed by Memphis Monday 26 March 1956 on WHBQ (Channel 13), Los Angeles Saturday 2 June 1956 on KHJ (Channel 9), New York City Saturday 1 September 1956 on WOR (Channel 9), Altoona Saturday 15 September 1956 on WFBG (Channel 10), and Philadelphia Tuesday 30 October 1956 on WFIL (Channel 6). This created an unusual, although not unique, situation at this time, as the 1956 re-release was still in wide theatrical distribution throughout the entire year.
This is the film whose story is told by the character Luis Molina in the first chapters of the great novel "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1976), by the argentinian author Manuel Puig.