A woman fears being turned into a panther and so avoids sex with her husband, but a psychiatrist tries to help her as she becomes jealous.
By a panther cage Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) meets Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who is sketching. She invites him for tea. They hear lions, and she tells him about Serbian legend. Oliver bought a cat for Irena, but it doesn't like her. So they go to a pet store, and he exchanges it for a canary. Irena tells Oliver that she loves him; but they have not kissed, because she fears evil. Oliver and Irena celebrate their wedding, and a cat-like woman greets Irena in Serbian and leaves. Irena asks Oliver for time and keeps him out of her bedroom.
After a month Irena visits the panther. Irena kills the canary, puts it in a box, and tells Oliver she had to give it to the panther. Oliver says she needs help, and she goes to psychiatrist Louis Judd (Tom Conway). He says she fears being a cat woman, who kills her lover. Irena finds Alice (Jane Randolph) with Oliver, and that she knows about Judd. At night Irena visits the panther. Oliver tells Alice that Irena has not gone back to Judd. Alice loves Oliver and cries, because he is unhappy. Dr. Judd sees Irena at the panther cage return the key. Oliver complains that Irena is not frank with him, but they avoid quarreling after he mentions Alice. Irena calls; Alice answers, and Irena hangs up. Irena sees Oliver with Alice and follows Alice, who is frightened and takes a bus. A man finds dead sheep, and Irena takes a taxi. Oliver asks Irena to forgive him. In the bath tub she cries. Irena dreams of the key.
The next day Irena takes the key from the cage. She follows Alice to a pool. Alice hears a panther and screams until Irena turns on the light; Alice finds her robe torn. Alice asks Dr. Judd about cat people and says she believes it. Irena tells Dr. Judd she is afraid of being kissed, and he tells her she is insane but to forget the past. Irena tells Oliver she is no longer afraid, but he says he loves Alice and wants a divorce. Irena tells Oliver to go.
Oliver with Alice tells Dr. Judd he wants Irena committed. Dr. Judd goes back for his walking stick with a key. At work the phone rings, and Alice tells Oliver she suspects it was Irena. They are locked in with a panther. Oliver prays for Irena to leave them, and they go outside. Alice calls Dr. Judd to warn him; but as Irena comes in, he hangs up and kisses her. He is attacked by a panther. Irena hides as Oliver and Alice arrive to find Dr. Judd with his sword cane broken. Irena opens the panther cage. The panther knocks her down and is run over by a car. Oliver and Alice find Irena, and he says she never lied.
This horror fantasy is presented realistically with
the supernatural element symbolizing subconscious fears of sexual
intimacy that are turned destructive by jealousy. The Serbian
legend of such witchcraft may derive from the persecution of Bogomil
heretics in the middle ages.