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

THE SEVENTH VICTIM


THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943). Director: Mark Robson.

Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter, who was introduced in this film), searches for her missing older sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) in New York with the help of various friends and associates, and learns that she has gotten involved with a bunch of devil worshipers. This is easily one of producer Val Lewton's best films -- although it is not for every taste -- and he and director Robson make the most of a low budget. Nicholas Musuraca contributed the crisp black and white cinematography. Although there are some moments in the film that stretch the credulity -- the satanists carting off a corpse manage to wind up on the exact same subway car as Mary --there are also sequences that are creepy and very well done, such as a murder in a abandoned office, and a chase through Greenwich Village. The screenplay (by DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O'Neal) has several interesting characters, intriguing aspects, and excellent dialogue. Tom Conway plays a psychiatrist, Louis Judd; Hugh Beaumont (Ward of Leave it to Beaver, who is better than expected) is Jacqueline's husband, Gregory; Erford Gage is the sensitive poet Jason (Gage was to live only two more years, killed in the Philippines in '45); and Lou Lubin is the ill-fated private eye Irving August. [One of the supporting actors is the son of the great opera star Feodor Chaliapin.] The surprising thing about The Seventh Victim isn't that it casts a strange spell, but that it's unexpectedly moving. Isabel Jewell has a powerful moment reacting to Jacqueline's possible death in such a way that it's clear she's in love with her, and the ending -- with a terminally ill woman (Elizabeth Russell) going out for one last fling as Jacqueline makes a fateful final decision -- if contrived, still packs a quiet wallop.

Verdict: Imperfect, certainly, but there's more here than meets the eye. ***.

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