Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Val Lewton Blogathon: The 7th Victim

"In case of emergency I'm grabbing the Val Lewton box set. The cats can fend for themselves." - Caftan Woman

Producer/writer Val Lewton ran his own B unit at RKO Studios for four years from 1942 to 1946 and left movie fans a slate of interesting and entertaining movies such as The Cat People, The Body Snatcher and I Walked With a Zombie. Lewton and his company creatively used low budgets, left-over sets, and studio-dictated titles in a testament to imagination.

The 1943 feature The Seventh Victim was an early directing assignment for editor Mark Robson (Champion, The Prize, My Foolish Heart, Isle of the Dead) and was another intriguing movie for the filmmakers who came to be known for their quirky tales. The story and script were written by DeWitt Bodeen (The Enchanted Cottage) and Charles O'Neal (Montana). The cinematographer was the master of moodiness, Nicholas Musuraca (I Remember Mama, The Locket).

Jean Brooks, Kim Hunter

Future Academy Award winner (A Streetcar Named Desire) Kim Hunter made her screen debut as Mary Gibson, thrown from the protective atmosphere of a boarding school to the unfamiliar streets of New York City in a search for her older sister who has mysteriously disappeared. Like Dorothy Gale in Oz some of the people Mary encounters are very nice and some ... are not, but she must search for her home and home is her only family, the mercurial Jacqueline.

What Mary learns of her sister is conflicting and disturbing. Jacqueline, played by the lovely Jean Brooks, has apparently sold her successful cosmetic business and disappeared. She has not only stopped writing to Mary and paying her tuition, but Jacqueline also refuses to see her husband. The husband is a lawyer, Gregory Ward played by Hugh Beaumont, who initially keeps the nature of his relationship with Jacqueline a secret from Mary. While drawn to Jacqueline's exotic individualism, Gregory and Mary are a more suitable match who fight their attraction for Jacqueline's sake.

Erford Gage, Tom Conway, Hugh Beaumont

Jacqueline was recently sighted at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village where she rented a room which is kept locked and contains only a chair placed under a hangman's noose. Mary becomes a boarder at the complex whose other residents include a consumptive woman played by Elizabeth Russell who calls herself Mimi (Cat People) and a poet who has lost his touch, nicely played with charm and pathos by Erford Gage. Sadly for fans of Gage, his life would be lost on Iwo Jima within two years.

Our poet, Jason, finds hope in the refreshing Mary and memories of a lost love. His circle of friends also includes psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd, played by Tom Conway, who had been treating Jacqueline and knows a lot more than he lets on. Of course, Conway always had that look of superior knowledge about him. Will they help or hinder the search, and for what motives?

Kim Hunter, Lou Lubin

Lou Lubin plays Irving August, a job-hungry PI who stubbornly, and to his detriment, forgoes his usual fee to assist in the search for Jacqueline when told to mind his own business. Something about Mary's little girl lost in the big world brings out his inner white knight.

The Seventh Victim is, for me, a disquieting and subtle movie about power and the lack of it. We have a need to feel in control of our lives, yet too often the control rests with others. Jacqueline has created a thriving business and that should bring her satisfaction, but she is a thrill-seeker who wants more. She wants to control her life and the end of it. At least, that is the take Gregory and Mary have gleaned.

Gregory: "I love your sister, Mary. I love her very much. It's easy to understand now, isn't it? A man would look for her anywhere Mary. There's something... exciting and unforgettable about Jacqueline. Something you never... quite get hold of. Something that keeps a man following after her." 

Mary: "Because I loved Jacqueline I thought I knew her. Today I found out such strange things, frightening things. I saw a hangman's noose that Jacqueline had hanging... waiting."

Gregory: "Well, at least I can explain about that. Your sister had a feeling about life; that it wasn't worth living unless one could end it. I helped her get that rope."

Beautician Frances Fallon, played by Isabel Jewell, in a conversation with Mary opines that most people are lost and lonely. Deep down was Jacqueline perhaps as lost as the gullible Frances? Others have banded together as Paladists or Satan worshippers and believe their rites give them power over others and over life and death. Jacqueline has fallen in amongst them and begins her ultimate power struggle.

Kim Hunter

The divergent plotlines, the search for Jacqueline, and the struggle for power are told from the outsider Mary's point of view. Murder and cover-ups result from the efforts. The Seventh Victim unfolds with scenes of shadowy nights and doorways, murky corridors leading to danger and deception. Intrusions into the privacy of minds and even the privacy of the physical space of a washroom.

Power is misused and power is stripped away. When Dr. Judd and Jason confront the Palladists openly with their base shoddiness they are disabused of their power, perhaps only momentarily, but it is a satisfying moment in the film. Is Jacqueline free from her tormentor's influence and true master of her own fate? It is not for us to know the secrets of things that go bump in the night.

This post is part of the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of the Speakeasy blog. See more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or the Speakeasy Lewton page.


  1. Thanks so much for joining in, this is my fave Lewton movie, for all the reasons you mention. It's these more "real" and likely horrors (same with Ghost Ship) that seem scarier to me, and as you say, people have greater mysteries in their heads than any detective can unravel.

    Jean Brooks is so perfect here, so spacy and memorable, I remember reading up on her totally after watching this. Never knew about Gage, thanks for adding that detail. Great stuff, thanks again & best

  2. Of all the films in the Lewton collection, 7th Victim is one that haunts me the most. I am constantly filled with dread and desperation while watching. Whenever I open the DVD closet to pick a movie and my eyes scan over the collection, 7th Victim seems to catch my attention and somehow I think the case in starring back at me as well!

  3. Sweet Betsy from Pike, how could I have missed this?!! Hugh Beaumont, and a character named Jacqueline? Robson, Bodeen and Musuraca? Your intriguing and well-written post has gripped my very soul. She said.

    Will be on the alert for this one. Thanks.

  4. Tom Conway and Jean Brooks? Sold! This sounds interesting. Jean Brooks was quite an interesting actress, it's too bad she didn't become better known.

    DeWitt Bodeen used to write articles for Films in Review which I collected as a teen. :) Also interesting to note Mark Robson directed it -- he edited my blogathon contribution, THE LEOPARD MAN. Just checked out the cast on IMDb and see Barbara Hale has a bit part, too.

    Thanks for an interesting write-up! Going to have to get brave and pull this one out of my son's Lewton set. :)

    Best wishes,

  5. Kristina, it was my pleasure to participate in the Lewton celebration. Congratulations on a job well done.

  6. If "The 7th Victim" is staring back at you, run fast down the nearest hallway - or not!

  7. JTL, you must see this one. It creeps up on you, and I mean that in a good way.


  8. Laura, Barbara Hale is seen briefly as a woman on the subway, but the beauteous Della immediately catches the eye. It could be nobody else.

    I think you'll find the movie an intriguing experience on many levels.

  9. Caftan Woman, your review of THE SEVENTH VICTIM is as haunting as the film itself! It's been quite some time since I've seen it, but its moody poignancy. It makes me think of how lonely, dissatisfied people often find themselves swept into perilous situations, especially in big cities where an innocent can feel swallowed up (not that it's ever been a problem for this native New Yorker :-)). BRAVA on a superb blogpost, CW!

  10. Thanks so much, Dorian.

    One of the things that gets me about "The 7th Victim" is that you might start watching it thinking you are going to see a movie about other people, but find it relates more to each of us. It's not the supernatural that drives it, but the all too natural.

  11. I'll need to re-watch this one after your splendid write-up. Jean Brooks is one of the decade's undiscovered treasures, and it's a shame she never had a bigger career. She had a great screen presence and an aura that was unidentifiable. Maybe that's why she never made it?

  12. It is confounding as to who gets the breaks and who doesn't, in life and the movies.

  13. This is such a great movie! I really enjoyed the way you compared Mary to Dorothy, even Mary's journey being more sinister.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  14. Thanks for the compliment.

    I had forgotten about the "Bad and the Beautiful" connection until reading your post. Well done.

  15. Ooooh, I don't think I've ever seen this, C.W. I love Val Lewton's CAT PEOPLE and THE LEOPARD MAN, both frightening movies in a quietly intense way. Though THE LEOPARD MAN scared me even more when I was a kid in the theater. It gave me nightmares for years. It was only as an adult that I was able to watch TLM again.

    I must see about lining up THE 7th VICTIM .



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