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Turner Classic Movies and Oscar®-winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed) joined forces to create the 90-minute TCM production looking at the life and work of master filmmaker Val Lewton. Scorsese produced and narrated the documentary, which takes a close look at the innovative and creative producer who fashioned a lasting body of uncannily beautiful and unsettling films on meager budgets. Martin Scorsese Presents: Val Lewton - The Man in the Shadows (2007) is written and directed by Kent Jones.
Born in Yalta, Russia, Lewton came to America as a child. After graduating from Columbia University, he became editorial assistant for legendary producer David O. Selznick. It was during this time that he helped film the revolutionary sequences in Selznick's A Tale of Two Cities and conceived of the famous boom shot in Gone with the Wind in which Scarlett walks through rows and rows of dead and wounded Confederate soldiers. (Interestingly, he advised Selznick to pass on making Gone with the Wind, which he considered to be a lousy book.)
Lewton was also an accomplished author, with 10 novels to his credit, along with six non-fiction books, a book of poetry and even a book of pornography. The legend goes that when RKO was looking for new producers, someone told the executives that Lewton wrote "horrible novels," which they misunderstood to be "horror novels." So in 1942, he was put in charge of a special unit at RKO assigned to churn out low-budget horror films. But Lewton wasn't content to simply make quick and easy shockers. He created a less-is-more school of poetic filmmaking, wherein shock effects are replaced by shadows and sounds, with the unseen often proving to be just as chilling as the seen.
Lewton's highly psychological works, several of which he also scripted, were made in collaboration with directors Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. They include some of Hollywood's most memorable thrillers and horror films: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Seventh Victim (1943), The Body Snatcher (1945), Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946). Lewton's influence was strong and can be seen in many later films, from Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) to Alejandro Amenbar's The Others (2001).
Martin Scorsese Presents: Val Lewton - The Man in the Shadows was produced for TCM by Scorsese's Sikelia Productions, with Kent Jones writing and directing.