Thursday, June 13, 2013

Victim #7

Twenty-five years before “all of them witches” terrified Rosemary and her baby, another film masterpiece explored the world of latter-day satanism in New York City. The Seventh Victim (1943), a mystery and psychological thriller from innovative B-movie producer Val Lewton (Cat People), offers strong performances, an absorbing storyline that twists and turns masterfully, and a perpetually moody atmosphere.

When young Mary learns that her sister Jacqueline has disappeared in New York City, she leaves her boarding school in search of her older sibling. There, in Greenwich Village, she uncovers a secret society of satanists (led by the ultra-severe Mrs. Esther Redi) who have taken over Jacqueline’s cosmetics business, but enigmatic Jacqueline remains mysteriously just out of her sister’s reach. 

The Val Lewton trademark imagery is unforgettable, rivalling the visual expressiveness of silent films: Dark, shadowy streets and hallways. A noose hanging above a chair in a bare room, awaiting its suicide victim. A spendidly gowned party hostess with her left arm missing, leaving one sequined sleeve hanging. 

Most memorable of all is the shower scene. Trapped naked in a claustrophobically tiny enclosed space, Mary is confronted with the menacing silhouette of the hard-nosed Mrs. Redi behind the shower curtain. Redi sternly warns Mary to call off the search and leave New York...or else. 

Playing Mary in her feature film debut is Kim Hunter, several years before her Broadway and film triumphs playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Jean Brooks plays the mysterious Jacqueline, and evil Mrs. Redi is Mary Newton.  Other recognizable faces include Hugh Beaumont (Leave It To Beaver) as Jacqueline’s spurned suitor, and Tom Conway, brother of fabled character actor George Sanders (handsomer than George but a vocal dead ringer) as Jacqueline’s Svengali-like psychiatrist. 

Directed by Mark Robson, the film is really the vision of its very hands-on producer. A low-budget film producer must be inventive and resourceful to entertain an audience, and Lewton was a master of the genre.The Seventh Victim is one of his very best.

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