Film Review: The Seventh Victim (1943)

Release Date: August 21st, 1943
Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen, Charles O’Neal
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter

RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“No, that room made her happy in some strange way I couldn’t understand. She lived in a world of her own fancy. She didn’t always tell the truth. In fact, I’m afraid she didn’t know what the truth was.” – Gregory Ward

The Seventh Victim is a movie that sort of walks a tightrope between multiple genres while being completely its own thing. It is a mixture of noir, horror, mystery and could mostly be considered a very dramatic thriller. It is also quite short at 71 minutes but it packs a solid punch despite its dainty running time. Tiny and meaty, it is like the filet mignon of early film-noir.

The cool twist of this picture, is that the story revolves around the existence of a Satanic cult in Manhattan. That’s some pretty dark and mysterious stuff for a film from the early 1940s but the movie doesn’t get quite as dark as you might hope, which is really the one thing that worked against it in my opinion. I was hoping for a sort of hybrid between early noir and something in the style of Universal’s horror franchises, at the time. RKO still made a dark and interesting thriller, regardless.

In this film, we meet a young female student who comes to discover that her older sister has been missing. She sets off, leaving her education behind, in an effort to find her missing sister. As the film rolls on, we learn that the older sister has some sort of involvement with a cult that worships the Devil. She exhibits strange behavior and is actually suicidal and wants to die. After betraying her cult, the punishment is death. However, she doesn’t want to die because someone else wills it, she wants to die when she is damned good and ready.

The Satanic sister is played by Jean Brooks and she puts in an enchanting performance. She is like a statuesque phantom in the night, exuding beauty and mystery. The younger sister, played by Kim Hunter, is a perfect contrast to the darkness and brings a bright beacon of light and hope into the story. Tom Conway is the top billed star but this film really stars the two sisters.

Ultimately, the picture is a bit disjointed and lacking the gravitas I had hoped it would have but it is interesting and entertaining. Plus, the performances of the two main actresses is really good. Additionally, few women have been able to exhibit a haunting allure in the way that Jean Brooks does in this picture.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Leopard Man (1943)

Release Date: May 8th, 1943
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Ardel Wray, Edward Dein
Based on: Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Jean Brooks, Margo

RKO Radio Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t get the idea, mister. These cops banging those pans, flashing those lights, they’re gonna scare that poor cat of mine. Cats are funny, mister. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them they go crazy. These cops, they don’t know what they’re doing.” – Charlie How-Come

I’ve been working my way through Val Lewton’s horror films for RKO. He produced some of the coolest scary movies of the 1940s and The Leopard Man is a pretty solid film that was directed by one of his best collaborators, Jacques Tourneur. Mark Robson, who would also direct some of Lewton’s productions, worked on this picture as its editor.

The film stars Dennis O’Keefe, who would go on to work in film-noir throughout the decade. He is joined by the mesmerizing Jean Brooks, who completely owned the screen in another Lewton production, the horror film-noir The Seventh Victim. She had a very strong presence in this and an enchanting aura about her. It’s surprising to me, actually, that she never went on to be a megastar in the era of film-noir.

Like Tourneur’s other films under Lewton, this is a picture where the audience has to often times rely on their own imagination. This is a classic suspense horror picture, through and through. It’s the things that aren’t seen that are the most scary. For instance, when the first victim dies, you witness this from the other side of a locked door, hearing her bloodcurdling screams, until they abruptly stop and a pool of blood starts pouring into the house from under the door.

Additionally, when another victim is attacked in a graveyard, much is left to the viewer’s imagination. You see the victim’s reaction and a branch violently shake before the attack. But it is done in a way that is more effective than seeing the monster attack on screen. And for the twist ending of this film, it is actually necessary to obscure the killer and allow the mind to fill in the blanks.

The plot of the film is pretty simple. A showman rents a black leopard to spruce up the act of one of his top ladies. The leopard is frightened and runs off, escaping into the small desert town. Shortly after, a girl is mauled outside the front door to her house, as her mother and little brother listen in horror. Some other killings happen while the police are trying to find the leopard, who is blamed for the deaths. As the story progresses, we learn that it might not be the leopard that is killing these people after all.

The big reveal at the end is pretty predictable but it doesn’t make the film any less effective. Plus, you’re never really sure what’s happening and why. The “why” is as big of a question as the “who”. While the answers might not be totally satisfying, everything leading up to the mystery being solved is pretty well structured and executed.

Tourneur and Lewton made another horror movie in the same visual style as the noir pictures that would come to dominate the 1940s. There’s a bit of a German Expressionist influence in the lighting and the use of shadows for contrast and a chiaroscuro presentation.

The Leopard Man is a much smarter horror picture than what was the norm for the 1940s but this would become Val Lewton’s specialty and even if they weren’t as big as Universal’s horror franchises in terms of popularity, they were better than most of those pictures in quality.

Rating: 7/10