Cast & Crew
Mary Gibson leaves school to go to New York and search for her missing sister Jacqueline. Upon arriving in the city, Mary visits La Sagasse, the cosmetics store owned by her sister, and learns that Jacqueline has sold the business to Mrs. Redi. Mrs. Redi claims no knowledge of Jacqueline's whereabouts, but Frances, an employee of the company, tells Mary that she recently saw her sister at a restaurant in Greenwich Village. At the restaurant, Mary meets the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Romari, who remember renting an upstairs room to the beautiful and mysterious Jacqueline, who never moved into the room. Mary convinces the Romaris to unlock the room, and upon opening the door, they see a noose dangling from the ceiling. Mary is consoled in her search by Jason Hoag, a failed poet, who advises her to file a report at the missing person's office. At the police station, Mary meets private investigator Irving August, who offers to find her sister for fifty dollars. When Mary finally reveals that she does not have the money, August is about to drop the case when a man warns him to forget about finding Jacqueline. Intrigued, August pulls her file. Mary, meanwhile, visits the morgue, where officials suggest she consult with attorney Gregory Ward. At his office, Gregory admits that he is in love with Jacqueline and explains that the noose is part of her fascination with death. After dining with Gregory, Mary returns to her hotel and finds August waiting for her. When August reports that he discovered a locked room at La Sagasse, Mary insists upon investigating. Mary waits in a deserted corridor in the store, while August enters the locked room. The detective soon stumbles out and collapses on the floor, the victim of a fatal stab wound. Mary races out and boards a subway train, where she later sees two men supporting August's limp body. Although Gregory remains skeptical about Mary's murder story, he finds her a job as a kindergarten teacher, and she moves into a room at the Romaris'. Soon after, Louis Judd, a psychiatrist, visits Gregory to ask him for money to support Jacqueline. When Gregory demands to see her, Judd warns him that Jacqueline is in danger of losing her sanity. Alerted to Mary's presence by Gregory, Judd offers to take her to Jacqueline's apartment, but they find it empty. Judd leaves to search for Jacqueline, who soon after, opens the apartment door, sees Mary, closes the door and disappears. Mary goes to look for her sister, and upon returning to the apartment, she is confronted by two men who identify themselves as private detectives hired by Jacqueline's husband, Gregory Ward. That night over dinner, Gregory explains that he kept his marriage a secret to protect Jacqueline. Jason then joins them at their table and promises Mary that he will find Jacqueline. Taking Mary and Gregory to a soiree at the apartment of Natalie Cortez, Jason questions Judd, one of Natalie's guests, about Jacqueline. The next day, Jason goes to the library and discovers that both Judd and Mrs. Redi had checked out a book about the Palladists, a sect of devil worshippers. Suspicious, Jason sends Mary to the cosmetics store to find out more about Mrs. Redi. At the shop, Mary questions Frances and discovers that the firm's new trademark is the Palladist diagram. Mary returns home and is showering when the shadowy figure of Mrs. Redi appears on the other side of the shower curtain. After informing Mary that Jacqueline killed August, Mrs. Redi advises her to return to school. Back at Natalie's apartment, a meeting of the Palladists has convened. Insisting that Jacqueline must die because she betrayed the society by visiting Judd, a psychiatrist, Mrs. Redi dispatches Lee and Durk, the men from the subway, to find her. Mary, taking Mrs. Redi's advice, visits Jason in his room to bid him farewell. When Mary explains that she is returning to school because her sister is a murderer, Jason, whose love for Mary has prompted him to begin writing poetry again, insists that she consult with Gregory first. When Gregory advocates that Jacqueline turn herself in to the police, Jason asks Judd to locate her. Judd brings Jacqueline to Jason's room, where she tells them that she sought help from Judd to break with the Palladists who, feeling betrayed, locked her in a room at La Sagasse. Tormented by fear and isolation, she lashed out at August with scissors when he entered her room. The next morning, Mary goes to school, where Romari phones to tell her that Jacqueline left with two men. The men take Jacqueline to Natalie's apartment, where the Palladists condemn her to death and demand that she drink a chalice filled with poison. As the hours tick by, Jacqueline's resolve ebbs and she reaches for the poison, but Frances screams and knocks the glass from her hand. After releasing Jacqueline into the night, Mrs. Redi sends an assassin after her. Escaping the assassin's knife, Jacqueline runs back to her room at the Romaris', where she meets a deranged woman in the hallway. The woman, who lives across the hall, announces that she is dying, but vows to experience life before she perishes. While Mary and Gregory await Jacqueline's return, Gregory tells Mary that he has fallen in love with her, and Mary admits that she also loves him, but could never take him away from her sister. Later that night, the deranged woman, attired in an evening gown, leaves her room, and as she passes Jacqueline's door, she hears the sound of a rope snapping.
Albert S. D'agostino
Jacqueline De Wit
John C. Grubb
Walter E. Keller
The Seventh Victim - The Seventh Victim
In The Seventh Victim, Greenwich Village is a dark and foreboding place where despair, suicide, and death are a daily reality and a neighborhood cafe called Dante's doesn't seem at all out of place. Wandering into this maze of darkness is Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter), an orphan in search of her missing sister Jacqueline. When she discovers that Jacqueline was involved with a satanic cult called the Palladists, Mary turns to her sister's husband, Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) for help in locating Jacqueline.
After the success of Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, and The Leopard Man, producer Val Lewton lost the services of Jacques Tourneur, the gifted director behind those influential thrillers. Tourneur was promoted at RKO and no longer affordable so Lewton turned to film editor Mark Robson to direct The Seventh Victim as his debut feature under Lewton's close supervision. (Robson would go on to direct four more pictures for Lewton). The result was Lewton's most personal film which expressed some of his own fears and incorporated some of his favorite literary interests such as the poetry of John Donne: "I run to Death, and Death meets me as fast, and all my Pleasures are like Yesterdays." The film was also the film debut of Kim Hunter (She had just changed her name from Janet Cole) and featured Chef Milani, well-known at the time for his bottled salad dressings, in a small role as a Italian chef.
Director: Mark Robson
Producer: Val Lewton
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen, Charles O'Neal
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Music: Constantin Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: Kim Hunter (Mary Gibson), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jean Brooks (Jacqueline Gibson), Isabel Jewell (Frances Fallon), Elizabeth Russell (Mimi), Hugh Beaumont (Gregory Ward).
By Jeff Stafford
The Seventh Victim - The Seventh Victim
The Val Lewton Collection on DVD
It's hardly a perfect collection, especially with all the audio commentaries by film historians who wallow in minutia that gets very tiring very quickly. But these facts are clear: (1) Lewton produced some of the best B-movies ever turned out on low budgets and quickie schedules for a Hollywood studio; and, (2) Some of the set's most noteworthy content is on the two discs available only within the five-disc boxed set.
First, some background. Struggling RKO hired Russian immigrant Lewton, then a story editor at David O. Selznick's studio, to head up a unit that would make low-budget horror movies and challenge Universal's dominance in that genre. RKO would have been happy to release monster movies like Universal's, and the studio imposed monstrous-sounding titles on Lewton's movies before scripts were ever penned. But the resultant stories were much more ambitious than that. Instead of using monsters, Lewton's subtle use of the power of suggestion left much of the terror to the viewer's imagination. By withholding shots of the source of terror in favor of foreboding shadows and sounds, and offering stories that usually took place in a contemporary, realistic setting, Lewton forged a distinctive mix in his RKO chillers. (Though he rarely took a writing credit, and never under his own name, Lewton wrote the final screenplay drafts for his RKO movies.)
Lewton's 1942-46 RKO chillers fall into three groups: the first trio of movies (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man), all directed by Jacques Tourneur; after RKO split up Lewton and Tourneur to spread their talents wider, a mid-section of Lewton movies that often stuck to the style of the Tourneur pictures (The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, The Curse of the Cat People); and, after the so-so financial performance of the straight dramas Mademoiselle Fifi and Youth Runs Wild, the three Lewton productions starring Boris Karloff (Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher and Bedlam).
Because the DVDs include two movies (each averages about only 72 minutes in length), the set often mixes titles from these periods on them:
Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People: Cat People, released in late 1942, is undoubtedly the most important Lewton movie, and this disc is the best place for the uninitiated to start. It set the tone for the rest of his RKO movies and, very importantly, was a big hit. Though the producer was forever stuck with imposed titles and tight budgets, its success gave Lewton a measure of creative control over his stories.
In its tale of the ill-fated marriage between a Serbian immigrant (Simone Simon) and a boat designer (Kent Smith), Cat People blends naturalistic staging and supernatural story as Lewton so often would. Irena, Simon's title character, believes she's descended from a line of women who turn into vengeful felines when sexually or emotionally aroused, so she won't consummate the marriage, which cranks up the sexual tension to levels unheard of in 1940s Hollywood movies, especially when Smith's character turns to the chummy co-worker who loves him (Jane Randolph) for advice. The movie's archetypal moments come when Irena stalks her rival through Central Park, and the extended silence becomes broken by a braking bus that lunges into the picture (a trademark Lewton device he'd often repeat) and when the still-stalked rival gets spooked by shadows and noises as she swims alone in a pool. Paul Schrader remade Cat People in 1982, but the original is the better version.
The Curse of the Cat People, out in 1944, is indicative of how Lewton subverted his RKO bosses' orders. Told to make a Cat People sequel, Curse is instead a very involving, very sensitive portrait of a lonely child. With the Smith and Randolph characters now married, following the death of Irena in the first film, their biggest worry is their daydreaming young daughter Amy (Ann Carter), who sees a picture of Irena and conjures up her image as an imaginary friend. Though lacking the visual lyricism of its predecessor, it's one of Lewton's best. Robert Wise co-directed with Gunther V. Fritsch, the first taking over for the second, who RKO fired for finishing only half the movie during the allotted schedule.
I Walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher: Another great double feature. The first, made just after Cat People, is more evidence of Tourneur's talent as a visual storyteller. A variation on Jane Eyre transposed to the West Indies, it finds a Canadian nurse (Frances Dee) arriving to her new post in the Caribbean, only to discover her new patient is a catatonic woman once caught in a love triangle between her husband (Tom Conway) and his half-brother (James Ellison), and that the island's native culture is steeped in voodoo. Like Cat People, an eerie chiller that travels far beyond the shocks we associate with horror. Meanwhile, The Body Snatcher is the best of Lewton's three pictures with Karloff (it was the second). Inspired by the Burke-Hare grave-robbing scandal, it's set in 1831 Edinburgh, with its main conflict pitting two former cadaver-stealing allies: a cabman (Karloff) who still digs up graves and a doctor (Henry Daniell) who's graduated to respectability and now only hires people to rob graves. The Body Snatcher, directed by Wise, is a fine example of how Lewton's movies not only avoided monsters, they also avoided outright villains and skillfully mined the moral grey zone.
Isle of the Dead and Bedlam: The first and third Lewton-Karloff collaborations, both also period pieces, are indicative of how Lewton's later RKO movies could be well-crafted, yet not as interesting as intended. The first, about a group of people quarantined on a Greek island during a plague scare, and the second, centered on London's notorious insane asylum of the 18th century, used period paintings and drawing as visual inspiration, so maybe it's not surprising they feel static. They're not bad and they give Karloff roles superior to his usual characters, but they feel flat compared to Lewton's more evocative work.
The Leopard Man and The Ghost Ship: the first of the two discs available only within the set offers two fine movies. The first is Tourneur's rendering of Cornell Woolrich's novel, Black Alibi, about what happens when a deadly black leopard gets loose in a New Mexico town. It's surely more uneven than Tourneur's two previous Lewton movies, yet it has great set pieces, especially when the cat stalks a teen who's been sent to the store by her mother. The Ghost Ship has been one of the most elusive Lewton movies, as it was pulled from release by RKO after a writer filed a plagiarism lawsuit, claiming the movie took elements from a script he had submitted to Lewton's office. Although Lewton never saw that script, RKO lost the case and pulled the movie. As with Curse of the Cat People, made just after it, Ghost Ship comes up with something much better than the mere horror film RKO wanted. Its conflict between the idealistic new third officer (Russell Wade) and the power-mad captain (Richard Dix) on a freighter doesn't just recall The Caine Mutiny, which Herman Wouk hadn't written yet, it also turns into an exploration of authority run amok, an anti-Fascist parable for its wartime audience.
The Seventh Victimand Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy: the second of the boxed-set-only discs contains two essentials. The Seventh Victim,, the first non-Tourneur Lewton movie, directed by Mark Robson in keeping with Tourneur's style, may be the eeriest of the producer's movies. Kim Hunter makes her film debut as a teen who travels to New York City to look for her missing older sister (Jean Brooks), and discovers that her sister became involved with a devil-worshipping cult that now wants her dead. If Lewton's movies stew in the juices of death, grief and loneliness, The Seventh Victim may be his grimmest. It's also his most noir movie, with all of its dangers stemming from human loneliness. A beautiful piece of melancholy.
Running a little under an hour, Shadows in the Dark is literally littered with interview subjects. Do we really need five film historians, four writers and seven directors praising Lewton? An indication of how cluttered it is comes when George A. Romero who, like Lewton, knows a thing or two about movie zombies, is never heard offering his take on Lewton's kind of voodoo-based zombie, much different from Romero's Pittsburgh zombies. Still, this is a good overview of the producer's life and work, and it's hard to argue with any of the praise heaped upon Lewton's movies. They deserve it. Full of family snapshots and home movie footage, as well as the comments of Lewton's son, Val E. Lewton, Shadows of the Dark offers a strong sense of how Lewton's RKO movies reflected his personality: dark, literate, competent.
Most of those film historians in the documentary handle audio commentaries on the set's movies, though there's no commentary for The Ghost Ship, which seemingly has the most interesting "back story." The most worthwhile commentary is definitely the late Robert Wise's, on
Wise's first-hand anecdotes are much more interesting than the historians' micro-observations and rabid research, which is often along the lines of "This scene was filmed on October 13, but this insert within it was filmed on November 4." Sorry, stuff like that is just not that interesting. The historians are all well-prepared and speak well, but when I cautiously popped in director William Friedkin's commentary for The Leopard Man—cautiously because Friedkin's The Narrow Margin commentary had some dubious observations — it was really refreshing to hear him say, "Frankly, the movie speaks for itself" in the first minute. Greg Mank's commentaries on Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People also include snippets of his phone interview with the late Simone Simon. For some reason, though, these snippets are often semi-arbitrarily dropped in with no set-up and, like most of the historians commenting, Mank doesn't even open by telling us his qualifications to do a commentary for a Val Lewton movie. When that happens, I just want to ask, "Dude, where's your credibility?"
For more information about The Val Lewton Horror Collection, visit Warner Video. To order The Val Lewton Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
The Val Lewton Collection on DVD
TCM Remembers - Kim Hunter
KIM HUNTER, 1922-2002
Kim Hunter, the versatile, distinguished actress who won the Supporting Actress Academy Award for her portrayal as the long-suffering Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and appeared as Dr. Zira in three Planet of the Apes movies, died in her Greenwich Village apartment from an apparent heart attack on September 11, 2002. She was 79.
Born Janet Cole in Detroit on November 12, 1922, where her mother was a concert pianist, she made her professional debut at 17 with a small theatre company in Miami. She gained notice immediately with her strong voice and alluring presence, and eventually studied at the Actors' Studio in New York.
She made a striking film debut in an eerie, low-budget RKO horror film, The Seventh Victim (1943), produced by Val Lewton. She played a similar ingenue role in another stylish cult flick, When Strangers Meet (1944) - a film directed by William Castle and notable for featuring Robert Mitchum in one of his first starring roles. Hunter's big break came two years later when Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger cast her in their splendid romantic fantasy, Stairway to Heaven (1946).
Despite her growing popularity as a screen actress, Hunter returned to the stage to make her Broadway debut as Stella in Tennessee Williams'A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). When Elia Kazan adapted the production for the silver screen, she continued her role as Stella opposite Marlon Brando, and won an Oscar as best supporting actress. A few more film roles followed, but sadly her screen career entered a lull in the late 1950s, after Hunter, a liberal Democrat, was listed as a communist sympathizer by Red Channels, a red-hunting booklet that influenced hiring by studios and the Television networks. Kim was blacklisted from both mediums despite never having been labeled a Communist, yet as a strong believer in civil rights she signed a lot of petitions and was a sponsor of a 1949 World Peace Conference in New York. She was widely praised in the industry for her testimony to the New York Supreme Court in 1962 against the publishers of Red Channels, and helped pave the way for clearance of many performers unjustly accused of Communist associations.
Hunter spent the next few years on the stage and didn't make a strong impression again in films until she was cast as Dr. Zira in the Planet of the Apes (1968), as a simian psychiatrist in the classic science fiction film. The success of that film encouraged her to continue playing the same character in two back-to-back sequels - Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Hunter spent the remainder of her career on the stage and television, but she a terrific cameo role in Clint Eastwood's Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (1997), one of her last films. She is survived by her daughter Kathryn, from her first marriage to William Baldwin, and her son Sean, from her marriage to actor and producer Robert Emmett.
By Michael T. Toole
TCM REMEMBERS J. LEE THOMPSON, 1914 - 2002
Oscar-nominated director J. Lee Thompson died August 30th at the age of 88. Though he worked in several genres, Thompson was best-known for his action films. Thompson was born in Bristol England on August 1, 1914. After graduating from college he became a playwright and it was the appearance of one of his plays on London's famous West End that got him noticed by the British film studio, Elstree. His first filmed script was The Pride of Folly in 1937 and others appeared sporadically until his career was side-tracked during the war when Thompson served in the RAF as a B-29 tail gunner. (He also reportedly worked as a dialogue coach on Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, 1939.) Thompson's directorial debut came in 1950 when he adapted his own play Double Error to the screen as Murder Without Crime. Throughout the decade he directed a variety of dramas and comedies until hitting it big in 1958 with Ice Cold in Alex (released in the US minus 50 minutes under the title Desert Attack). It was nominated for three BAFTAs and was enough of a commercial success that Thompson landed the film that made his career: The Guns of Navarone (1961). This enormous international hit snagged Thompson an Oscar nomination for Best Director. He immediately followed that with the original Cape Fear (1962) and his reputation was set. Though Thompson remained active almost three more decades he didn't reach that level again. He worked on Westerns (Mackenna's Gold, 1969), horror films (Eye of the Devil, 1967), literary adaptations (Huckleberry Finn, 1974) and others. During this time, Thompson directed two Planet of the Apes sequels but was kept most busy working with Charles Bronson, for whom he directed nine films. Thompson's last film was in 1989.
KATRIN CARTLIDGE, 1961 - 2002
The news of actress Katrin Cartlidge's death at the age of 41 has come as a shock. It's not just the age but the thought that even though Cartlidge was already a major actress--despite a slender filmography--she held out the promise of even greater work, a promise that so few artists of any type can make. "Fearless" is perhaps the word most often used to describe Cartlidge but emotions are never enough for an actor; much more is required. Director Mike Leigh said she had "the objective eye of an artist" while remarking on her "her deep-seated suspicion of all forms of woolly thinking and received ideas."
Cartlidge was born in London on May 15, 1961. Her first acting work was on the stage, in tiny independent theatres before she was selected by Peter Gill for the National Theatre. Cartlidge also worked as a dresser at the Royal Court where she later made one of her final stage appearances. She began appearing in the popular British TV series Brookside before making her first film in 1985, Sacred Hearts. A small role in the Robbie Coltrane-Rik Mayall vehicle Eat the Rich (1987) followed before Cartlidge had her first leading role in Mike Leigh's scathing Naked (1993).
Cartlidge never took a safe approach in her films. She told The Guardian that "I try to work with film-makers who I feel will produce something original, revealing and provoking. If something provokes a reaction, it's well worth doing." You can see this in her choice of projects. Before the Rain (1994) dramatized violence in Macedonia in the wake of the Yugoslavian break-up and made Cartlidge something of a star in the area. She appeared in Lars Von Trier's controversial look at redemption, Breaking the Waves (1996), Leigh's sharply detailed story of aging friends Career Girls (1997), as one of Jack the Ripper's victims in From Hell (2001), as a call girl trying to leave the business in Clair Dolan (1998) and in the Oscar-winning film about Bosnia-Herzegovina, No Man's Land (2001). Her last work included a BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment (2002), playing Salvador Dali's wife Gala in the BBC comedy-drama Surrealissimo (2002) and an appearance in Rosanna Arquette's directorial debut, Searching for Debra Winger (also 2002), a documentary about women in the film industry.
Cartlidge died September 7th from septicaemia brought on by pneumonia.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Kim Hunter
The original story for the film (outlined by DeWitt Bodeen) was to be about an orphaned heroine caught in a web of murder against a background of the Signal Hills oil wells. If she didn't find out the killer's identity in time, she would become his seventh victim. Producer Val Lewton wanted the story to go in a different direction and called in a second writer to help reshape it.
The film opens with the following lines from a sonnet by John Donne, "I runne to death, and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday." Hollywood Reporter news items yield the following information about the film's production: In November 1942, DeWitt Bodeen was assigned to write the screenplay. By late February 1943, writer Charles O'Neal was added to the project to hasten the start of the film's production. Jacques Tourneur, who had worked successfully with producer Val Lewton on three previous films, was intially slated to direct the film, but when he was re-assigned to another project, film editor Mark Robson was promoted to director and assigned to the film. The girls' seminary scene in the film was shot on the same set as RKO's 1942 picture Magnificent Ambersons. The film marked actress Kim Hunter's screen debut. Although the Variety review lists the character played by Hugh Beaumont as "Gregory Stone," he is called "Gregory Ward" in the film.