Being an American has always come with a sort of pride and arrogance in my family. However I do not share these feelings. Being an American is not all that it is cracked out to be. We force ourselves onto poorer countries becoming the benevolent bigger brother and driving out native influence. We made McDonalds popular in places where regional culinary traditions once held and produced imaginative dishes. We elect a president who wins the Nobel Peace Prize and then continues to escalade a war in Afghanistan, invade Libya and hold a war in secret in Iraq. All of these events fit neatly into the long history of America.
How does this relate to a campy 40’s horror film? It actually has a lot to do with it. The story is about a young woman of Serbian descent who comes to America in order to escape this mysterious plague that resides in her town and to have a better life. She meets a man who is the quintessential definition of an American man. The man is charmed by her and within what seems like hours into their relationship, he marries her. Surprisingly there are complications in this marriage. She thinks that if they become intimate (if they have kinky sweaty sexy time!), she will turn into a cat (a black panther to exact). The American man foolishly says “No, silly. Your foolish home country traditions have no sway in big bad America. There is no way you will become a cat.” They do it and she becomes a panther who stalks her husband’s secretary. They tremble at her otherness.
At the end, the good American couple triumphs and the panther is forced to recede into the background. This is what happens to so many immigrants that come to America. In the end the Americans and the others will just have to wait their turn that may not come.
This film is campy fun. The suspense is well placed and influenced by light tricks and dialogue instead of more in your face shock that comes from modern films. However the ideal of xenophobia does sort throw me a little. Does it always have to be the “aw-shucks” American man that triumphs? Can it be the Serbian woman is really the hero of the film and the “aw-shucks” American man is the villian? I think that is how I will choose to remember the film. After all there is a sequel where the main actress comes back but not the actor who played the inane and bland man.
Tomorrow will be my coverage of the sequel. I have to create some suspense on how this xenophobic tale plays out, don’t I?