The Seventh Victim Reviews
Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) is a young woman studying at a private school, pulled into the administrator's office to be informed that her sister, who has been paying for her tuition, has disappeared--and tuition has not been paid for the past six months. She's sent away to try and find her sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks), chasing her to her cosmetics factory, restaurants, rented rooms and names she is given, never seeming to get anywhere near her sister. Jason Hoag (Erford Gage) is a failed writer, who suggests the missing persons department of the police. After giving her report there, she is given the advice of checking the morgue by excitable private eye Irving August (Lou Lubin), where she is given the name Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont--yes, later Ward Cleaver, and just as whitebread), only to discover this man is Jacqueline's husband. They find themselves ensnared in a rather noir-esque web of the satan-worshipping (!) Palladists and the varying pasts and knowledge of the people who've interacted with Jacqueline.
As is often the case with Lewton films, I'm stunned to look down at the runtime for the first time and find only fifteen minutes has passed--not because I feel it's been dragging, but because so much has happened in what is normally a sixth or an eight of a movie, but is nearly a quarter of it here. It's this rapid pace that I think helps Lewton's films so very much, keeping it up and preventing any dead space or drag from ever occurring. Similarly, they bear an honesty about them--even in flawed performances (dear me, the Italian restaurant owner...), we can see a strange honesty to them. It struck me that this is the most important thing in any film to my eyes, or even any writing--that it does not overreach its grasp. Certainly it can fail to reach it, and it can aim quite high, but when it's clear that the overriding elements do not congeal, the grasp was more than any person in the production had (barring, I suppose with a nod to Mr. Ellison, the original writer). A weak performance, or a collection of them, or effects that do not come together, can all be saved by an overall understanding that someone involved in the production had a very clear idea that they tried to put together and knew the right elements for, limited only by weaknesses along the way in other people. When a movie, a novel, anything does not attempt to be anything more than it is--which is not to say a horror film, for interest, must remain a horror film and nothing more, or anything else so limiting--or anything, more importantly, more than the folks in control of it can indeed manage. This is what Val Lewton brought to all of his films--a vision that he understood himself. The actors were not always up to the task, though they usually were (and exceptions were typically quite small roles), and certainly the budget limited many elements, and studio interference could cause issues, but Lewton clearly knew how to get the films he built and allegedly screen-wrote all of.
Alas, this is not one I can stand fully behind. There's a hideously corny scene where Conway confronts the Satanist Palladists and cows them with the most absurdly obvious thing in the world--The Lord's Prayer. Really now. They'd never heard it before? That really made them doubt themselves? Please. Give me a break here. Beyond that, there were a greater number of weak roles--Beaumont is, as I say, rather whitebread. There's a romance that blooms inexplicably between him and Mary, perhaps just to satisfy the studio's hunger for wide audiences ("Something for the women!"), but it comes off as ridiculous. It was peculiar to see Dr. Judd again, considering his previous role, though nice to see him a little less sleazy--and it definitely set my reference and intersection-loving heart a-fluttter. But for once Lewton did not perfectly insert the "supernatural" element this time (though as always it was not terribly supernatural)--Satanists? Perhaps I couldn't swallow it simply because of that absurd final appearance they make. Still, Jacqueline's chase scene near the end is excellent, the light-swallowing noir shadows the fill the film are beautiful and Jacqueline's final fate is ahead of its time, but it doesn't all quite come together.
I prefer coffee-stained cinematography to slimy gore when it comes to the genre, but no matter how I look at it, I consider the films of Lewton to be ingeniously shot, but not much more than that. Sure, there is a building dread that causes our adrenaline to genuinely pump (especially in comparison to other chillers of the time), but I've never been truly frightened by one of his films; many act as though they're as disturbing as the untamed throes of modern horror. With the exception of the excellent "Cat People," they are well-made, if forgettable, B-movies. Maybe I'm just not as much of a Lewton aficionado as I'd like to be.
This shouldn't suggest that his films are bad; they're anything but. For the 1940s, they're more stylistically daring than anything in the decade. They rely solely on their photography and ghostly atmosphere, a dangerous move during a time where most studio heads would have an easier time pasting Frankenstein makeup onto the latest macabre personality.
"The Seventh Victim," which is probably Lewton's second best film, after "Cat People," of course, goes into the darkest territory of all his films combined. This time, island roaming zombies or lady panthers are not the villains. Satan worshippers are. The climax is not a seismic relief but a distressing suicide, an ending unthinkable when happy endings were at their historic peak. "The Seventh Victim" takes risk after risk after risk after risk, a series of dares that should pay off. But with its low production value and upsettingly short running time (a mere 71 minutes), things feel cluttered. There isn't quite enough room to develop the story into something earthshakingly haunting; the plot twist comes by so quickly that it doesn't hit us with nearly as much fury as it might have liked to. But if it were produced by anyone other than Lewton, it certainly wouldn't have the staying power it so proudly boasts. With its nightmarishly inky corridors and ingeniously characterized villains, it leaves a frightening taste in our mouth when the story offs itself before anything too stimulating happens.
Kim Hunter portrays Mary, a naive young woman who is getting her education at Miss Highcliff's boarding school. Before the film even has time to explain itself, Mary is called into her headmistresses office. It seems that Jacqueline (Jean Brooks), Mary's older sister and only relative, has not paid for her tuition in months. Facing financial hardship, the school offers Mary a choice; she can either stay by working as a student aid, or she can find a different place to learn.
Mary, wary of the school's clingy ways, decides to take on the real world. She figures she'll find Jacqueline in a short amount of time, and, with enough education on her side, will be able to find work for herself. But after just a few days of searching, Mary begins to realize that Jacqueline isn't simply on a vacation or something charming like that. She is involved in something hideous, something unspeakable; and after committing a crime, she may have to pay for it with her life.
For a film with satanists as its antagonists, "The Seventh Victim" is a surprisingly mature movie, where the foes are not fire-breathing devils but rather people you could pass by on the street without even noticing something strange. As Mary descends into a progressively alarming situation, we can't help but be even more frightened than she is; she believes that she's going to reunite with her sister in harmony, but we know that something much more evil is circling around her whereabouts. In a way, this is the most unsettling thing about the film. Because we know so much and because Mary knows so little, we instinctively want to protect her. But like her sister, we know that we're much too far in over our head to make any major changes.
The story may not stick with you, but its images will. In her brief appearance, Jean Brooks, covered in thick furs and surrounded by an onyx mane, makes a statement, looking like an apotheosis of the crossroads between good and evil. The infamous shower scene, an obvious precursor to the carnage of "Psycho," has a blink-and-you'll miss it allusion that only enhances the indirect jolts of the film. "Cat People," along with "The Seventh Victim" are the best films to come out of the Lewton cannon; shame about the overrated others.
Mary Gibson arrives in Greenwich Village after her sister, Jacqueline, seems to have disappeared. She gets to know the area and some locals and gets involved with devil worshippers. What are the chances that the worshippers had something to do with her sister's death?
"They wanted me to die. Kill myself."
Mark Robson, director of Earth Quake, Von Ryan's Express, Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls, Trial, The Harder they Fall, Bedlam, and Isle of the Dead, delivers The Seventh Victim. The storyline for this picture was just okay and a little too cleanly delivered. The characters were also only so interesting. The acting was solid and the cast includes Isabel Jewel, Kim Hunter, Evelyn Brent, Hugh Beaumont, and Ben Bard.
"She was asking about us."
I grabbed this movie off Turner Classic Movies (TCM) last Halloween season. I thought this was a unique horror film; unfortunately, it is pretty ordinary. Overall, this movie was pretty average, maybe slightly above average due to the character dynamics.
"I'm under orders to make you laugh."