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Movie Critique - The Seventh Victim

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A very moody and unsettling atmosphere filled film noir sending chills up your spine causing terror in the viewers' mind. Not a brilliant movie, but still worth a watch.

The Seventh Victim is the 1943 American horror film noir starring Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter and Hugh Beaumont in the lead cast. Produced by Val Lewton and Directed by Mark Robson, the screenplay was written by DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O'Neal.

Mary Gibson (portrayed by Kim Hunter) finds out that her sister, Jacqueline Gibson (portrayed by Jean Brooks) is missing and goes to New York City to find her. Her search leads her to psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd (portrayed by Tom Conway) and mysterious husband Gregory Ward (portrayed by Hugh Beaumont); a murder; and a group of suspects that her sister befriended.

Horror genre is not my usual go to for movies or books or tv shows. However these horror film noir most certainly are on a different level that makes me hide from them and at the same time watch them. So, my wise patrons, you have seen a few in the past and will see a few from the horror genre in my posts going forward. 

Tom Conway is the brother of famous actor George Sanders. He is primarily remembered for his roles in British TV and Radio for his roles in detective fiction such as The Falcon, Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond and The Saint. 

I saw three of his films so far - as Andrew Herdon in the 1940 Nick Carter's film Sky Murder; Dr. Louis Judd in the 1942 American horror film Cat People; and The Man in the 1945 American film noir Two O'clock Courage. I can never forget his voice from the various episodes I have listened to so far on the old time radio podcasts.

In this film, Tom Conway reprises his role of Dr. Louis Judd from the 1942 American horror film Cat People. Perhaps being directed by Lewton in both films, he reused his characters, just as he reused sets. It was nonetheless interesting to see a character repeated along with the actor who played, since neither films had any connection to them in anyway from plot perspective. Conway's Judd although refers to Simone Simon's Irena Dubrovna character from Cat People in one of his conversations in this film.

Kim Hunter's film debut as Mary Gibson. Her stage fright was excellently used by the director in this role where she is fearful, scared at even a small sound. Yet he made her strong enough to have some gumption and not scream at every turn like so many horror film heroines from that period. She however is memorable for her Oscar winning performance in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire as Stella Kowalski

Jean Brooks as Jacqueline Gibson plays the perfect candidate who had been emotionally tortured, with so few expressions that it almost feels like her soul is somewhere else and her body is just going with motions. Her black wig makes her role more effective. 

Lewton is famous for tight budgets and reusing of sets from other films. Well, RKO Radio Pictures had several stipulations for Lewton - budget not over $150K; cannot run more than 75 minutes; and the studio would choose the titles not the stories. Anyways we can see the staircase in the beginning of the film reused from Orson Welles' 1942 adaptation The Magnificent Ambersons. He reused Welles' movie set for another of his film 1944 The Curse of the Cat People, released a year after this film was released.

Lewton did deliver some iconic horror classic films within the stipulations RKO Radio Pictures had for him. Some of his excellent B films in the horror genre that are classics now are - 1942 Cat People; 1942 I Walked with a Zombie; 1943 The Leopard Man; 1943 The Ghost Ship; 1944 The Curse of the Cat People; 1945 Isle of the Dead; and 1946 Bedlam.

If you have watched the 1952 American melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful, you can see that Kirk Douglas's Jonathan Shields is very similar to Lewton - a director who makes cheap horror films in Hollywood. 

This film is directorial debut for Mark Robson. Sadly for him, the film was a failure with mixed reviews and gaining only a cult fame in England. After watching the film I can see why it failed. There were a few scenes that do not explain well. Also the most baffling conclusion to one of the key characters without a reason leaving the viewers confused. So many plot elements were left unanswered and disconnected.

Despite the failure at box office, this film sets a precedent to all the noir films that follow giving the future directors several ideas for their thrillers and horrors and chillers - including a shower scene that Hitchcock used 17 years later in the 1960 Psycho.

There is a certain homosexual eroticism subtly thrown around in the plot, especially with regards to Jacqueline and Frances Fallon (portrayed by Isabel Jewell). Also setting the film in Greenwich Village, famously known for gay and lesbian hangouts, clinches that fact.

This film for me felt leaning more towards a film noir vs horror, mainly because of all the invisible terrors that Lewton brings forth - the manipulation of human mind; the emotional torture; the cult following; brain washing; the hunt & chase - all typical elements of a film noir. Although the femme fatale is not very obvious here. 

71 minutes of adrenaline rush pumped into the viewers through fear, thrills and chills. It gives so much scope for imagination in viewers' minds that amounts to the increase in fear and scariness of the film. This psychological impact is far more superior than having a monster sit right in front of you in a chair and scare you. 

A very moody and unsettling atmosphere filled film noir sending chills up your spine causing terror in the viewers' mind. Not a brilliant movie, but still worth a watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. In June of 2000, a compilation of Roy Webb's musical scores for Lewton's movies was released under the title Music From The Films of Val Lewton. Ten tracks from this film featured in that album.

b. Erford Gage who portrayed the role of the poet Jason Hoag, was killed in action in Philippines in March of 1945, two years after this film was released. Recently in the film that I saw, the 1944 American psychological fantasy and horror thriller The Curse of the Cat People, he played the part of Police Captain, thus forming the last credited role for Gage before he was killed. I see another thread connecting Cat People to this movie to The Curse of the Cat People. He is the Tall man in the picture below.

c. Large painting in the restaurant Dante is an adaptation of Henry Holliday's 1883 canvas of Dante Alighieri meeting his muse Beatrice on the streets of Florence.

d. Another reference to Perry Mason TV Series can be seen in this film. Barbara Hale, famous for her role as Della Street on that show, has an uncredited role of a subway passenger. This was her third film role. Her second film was in the 1943 comedy Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event where she did have a line to deliver. Here she didn’t have any. 

e. Check out Lou Lubin as Private Detective Irvine August in the film in the uncredited role. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The opening text in the film is mentioned to be taken from Holy Sonnet #7 by Jonne Donne. But it is actually from Holy Sonnet #1. Also the first name is misspelled as "Jonne" instead of "John"

b. Note the worker Joseph (portrayed by Milton Kibbee) in the cosmetic company who wears a mask while mixing some ingredients that throw a lot of fumes. However neither Kim's Mary nor Mary Newton's Esther Redi wear one.

c. When Frances and Jacqueline meet first time on the film, the first two lines that Frances utters do not match the lip movement.

d. When Mary is coming down the stairs from Dr. Judd's apartment, the railing keeps shaking. Obvious that it is a stage-set. 

e. When Jacqueline is backed against a wall escaping from her assailant, close-up shot of her fingers show painted nails, and subsequent long shot shows unpainted nails.

f. In the case of Jacqueline's missing, police never question her husband Gregory Ward. He is not accused, and the cops are so ignorant about his existence at all. Also as an attorney he doesn’t question Jacqueline's gifts and other odd activities.

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