Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE


I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). Director: Jacques Tourneur.

One of the better-known horror films produced by Val Lewton, this is typically tasteful, moody and interesting, if it never quite jells. Although Lewton is said to have appropriated the plot of Jane Eyre for the movie -- and there are plot similarities -- this is really nothing like Jane Eyre (the first film version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, with a score by Bernard Herrmann, is far superior to this, for one thing). Frances Dee comes to Haiti to care for Jessica Holland, who acts as if she's been lobotomized but supposedly suffers from the disastrous effects of a fever. Dee learns that there is bad blood between her husband Paul (Tom Conway) and his half brother Wesley (James Ellison) because Jessica and Wesley had been planning on running away together. Conway is supposed to be such a fine man -- and Jessica a viper -- but we never really get to learn her side of things, and Paul -- although Conway's performance is good -- never seems like that nice a fellow. Dee is fine, but James Ellison is a little too lightweight to convincingly get across Wesley's torment over the sad fate of the woman he illicitly loved. Edith Barrett (one of the wives of Vincent Price) nearly steals the picture as Wesley and Paul's mother. There is some very interesting dialogue in Curt Siodmak's screenplay, such as when Conway tells Dee that most of the inhabitants of St. Sebastian were brought over in slave ships and had miserable lives. Which is why they "weep when a child is born and make merry at a funeral." The atmospheric photography is by J. Roy Hunt. Of the African-American cast members, Theresa Harris as the maid, Alma, and calypso singer Sir Lancelot, make the best impression, while Darby Jones certainly has a memorably eerie look as the purported "zombie" Carrefour. There is much to admire in I Walked with a Zombie, but if you're not tuned into its charms, you're liable to think it's much ado about nothing.

Verdict: Okay, but give Jane Eyre a try, too. **1/2.

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