A Movie A Day: Quint on THE 7TH VICTIM (1943) I made him go down that hall into darkness. I made him do it.
Published at: Sept. 1, 2008, 4:25 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Here we are with another Val Lewton flick, from a screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen (co-written by Charles O’Neal) and featuring Elizabeth Russell from the two CAT PEOPLE films. I’m starting to think she was a precursor to Dick Miller, instead of Val Lewton it became Joe Dante who put him in everything, sometimes only for a line or two.
I’m also noticing an interesting trend so far in that the main point of view for all three Val Lewton movies so far have been female. In CAT PEOPLE we saw through the eyes of either Simone Simon or Jane Randolph, in THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE it was clearly told form the point of view of the little girl, Ann Carter, and here we have a story about a woman looking for her sister.
The woman in question is young Mary Gibson, an introductory role for Kim Hunter who would later gain geek infamy as Zira the ape in PLANET OF THE APES, who is at a boarding school and is alerted that her wealthy sister (her only family) has neglected to keep up the tuition and is six months behind.
Fronting the money for a trip to New York, the headmistress offers Mary a TA job if she should want to return, but Mary doesn’t make it three steps out the door before she’s warned away by another teacher who was in a similar situation and ended up returning only to never being able to leave.
It’s not played creepy, more of a life lesson. Get out there, live your life… don’t let fear of the unknown make you run back to what may be comfortable, but unfulfilling.
These Lewton movies are bizarre. They’re all extremely well made and thought out (notice the number seven motif throughout this one), striving for a certain reality that isn’t exactly real life, but close.
For instance in this movie the bad guys are cultists, Satan worshippers, but they make lousy villains. They don’t believe in violence, but their faith contradicts itself (could this be a commentary on most mainstream religions?) stating also that if anyone betrays the order they must be killed.
So, all the tension and mystery of the first half of the movie as Kim Hunter finds out why her sister has disappeared, where she is, what she got into, etc, all lead up to quite an anticlimactic, but extremely interesting finale with all the cult members. And that’s not even the climax of the movie… there’s a genuinely creepy scene afterwards where Jean Brooks, playing the sister, can’t walk the streets without jumping at every shadow… and for good reason.
She’s stalked in this bit and despite making the boneheaded decision to run off of a busy street, knowing she’s being followed, into dark noir-lit alleys it’s a really intense cat and mouse sequence. Then we get the ending we can see coming and have seen coming for quite a bit of the movie, but still… it’s definitely a bit atypical of the period.
That’s the whole movie, though, and something I see in all of Lewton’s films so far. It’s not arty-farty, but it’s not exploitation, either. Very unique, very interesting.
Performances are all strong, with the exception of a screamingly over-the-top performance during the Satanic Cult meeting at the end… sorry, can’t remember the name of the actress in that scene, but she’s the second in command of the cosmetics company once owned by Jean Brooks.
Kim Hunter as our eyes is vulnerable and innocent, but determined to find her sister. I wouldn’t say her performance knocked me down, but it’s a solid piece of work. It’s easy to care for her, which is important if you’re going to buy into the suspense as she unravels the mystery of her sister’s disappearance.
Returning to Lewton from CAT PEOPLE, as the same character no less, is Tom Conway playing Dr. Judd… we have to assume that the timeline has this movie before CAT PEOPLE unless he faked his own death at the paws of Simone Simon. Here he’s that same person, but almost reversed. In CAT PEOPLE he was kind of a creepy guy hiding under the guise of a kind man and here he’s a kind man hiding under the guise of a creep who is involved in Jean Brooks’ disappearance.
Also very likable, aiding Kim Hunter in her search, is a down and out poet played by Erford Gage. He’s in love with Kim, but strangely enough, so is Hugh Beaumont, Kim’s sister’s husband. It’s an odd triangle that is only brought up a couple of times and just seems to kind of be there.
Isabel Jewell is one of the main cultists and the one who stands the most to gain from Kim’s sister disappearing. She has a great little warning scene that is quite obviously the kernal that Hitchcock lathered up in oil and put on the fire to create the infamous shower scene in PSYCHO:
Lewton regular and previous AMAD director (VON RYAN’S EXPRESS) Mark Robson helmed this pic and while it lacks a certain refinement that Jacques Tourneur had in CAT PEOPLE it’s certainly far above competent. This was Robson’s first film, but it’s restrained, but not afraid to be experimental.
Final Thoughts: THE 7TH VICTIM is a well thought out, well executed mystery with noir overtones… kind of the Lewton special at this stage of his career… at least judging by what I’ve seen so far. This would make a very interesting double feature with ROSEMARY’S BABY, I think. ROSEMARY’S BABY is a far superior movie, in my opinion, but it’s definitely a fit with this flick.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Monday, September 1st: THE GHOST SHIP (1943)
Tuesday, September 2nd: ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)
Wednesday, September 3rd: BEDLAM (1946)
Thursday, September 4th: BLACK SABBATH (1964)
Friday, September 5th: BLACK SUNDAY (1977)
Saturday, September 6th: TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1972)
Sunday, September 7th: TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972)
Got a few more Lewtons to get through before hitting some Italian horror with Mario Bava.
I’m still weighing freezing the column in place beginning October 1st and doing nothing but horror movies potpourri style, then starting back up as scheduled November 1st. I just feel bad because I love horror and we have two weeks of horror that we’re in to now, but after Bava we’re into ‘60s comedy, Gary Cooper westerns, some more John Wayne and a lot of war movies, with virtually no horror in October.
There are tons of stuff in the stack, but not set on the list yet… classics, ‘80s trash, slashers, monster movies, black and white… all over the map. I’m warming up to the idea myself, but I’d still like to hear your thoughts.