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What did I just watch? "The Seventh Victim"

by Nathaniel R

Because Jean Brooks had frequently been mentioned as a supporting actress standout of 1943, the last film I screened for our celebration was Val Lewton production The Seventh Victim. I have only one question: what did I just watch? Kristen Lopez was right on the podcast when she called it a "polite" horror movie. Even the satanic villains are polite...

The film is only 70 minutes long and concerns a young woman (future Oscar winner Kim Hunter, "Stellaaaa!" herself, in her film debut) whose sister (Jean Brooks) has gone missing in New York City. Jean Brooks takes her time showing up in the picture as the missing sister but her entrance is definitely memorable and she's the best thing in the picture by far once her life is perpetually threatened. Plus she can sell the hell out of nearly catatonic closeups and imbue them with the mysteries of depression. I was sad to read afterwards that Hollywood had lost interest in her right around this time despite her inarguable ability to hold the camera. She was 28 at the time of The Seventh Victim. She was gone from movie screens by 1949 and died in 1963 at the age of just 47 due to complications from alcoholism.

One more random thought.

There's a shower sequence that you have to imagine made an impression on Hitchcock (though even that is 'polite,'... well, as polite as a threat can be, that is). One must also assume that Roman Polanski saw the picture at an impressionable age (he was 10 at the time). Hitchcock made his own masterpiece that year with Shadow of a Doubt but I wonder what he thought of the producer Val Lewton who was just churning out cheap thrillers and horror movies that year for RKO (The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, I Walked With a Zombie... all in 1943!).

Any Hitchcock or Lewton experts know?

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Reader Comments (6)

I, too, watched this yesterday on TCM because of the enthusiasm for Jean Brooks' performance. While she's visually stunning (and her first appearance is stunning) I have to admit I didn't get much out of either her near-catatonic performance or the film itself. But what a weird movie! The ending is about as bizarre as any movie's ever.

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

It's a very strange film and the polite handle is apt but considering the times I imagine it was quite disquieting to the public.

Ironically I'm in the middle of watching the documentary TCM ran last night Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows narrated by Martin Scorsese. It offers some marvelous insights into his films and they do talk about The Seventh Victim which was an important picture in his evolution.

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I can't speak for certain about an influence on Hitchcock, but I can say that many of the scare scenes introduced in Val Lewton pictures were the first of their kind and largely influential on horror cinema. Cat People has what's largely considered the original jump scare with the nighttime walk scene, and Curse of the Cat People was studied for decades in university classes for how well it explores imaginary friends. His films also helped establishing the long tracking shots and close-ups on feet in a slow chase as horror staples. Val Lewton was a very hands on producer and definitely had an influence on the style and tone of these films.

Basically, the Hitchcock and Polanski influences are safe assumptions. Val Lewton was the black and white horror innovator and paved the way for small budget high concept horrors for decades to come.

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I like THE SEVENTH VICTIM quite a bit and I'm rather baffled that you are so immune to its offbeat charms, Nathaniel. I really like the ending in particular - really dark but poetic.

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Rob -- i didn't dislike it! I just found it extremely odd and tonally bizarre given its subject matter. Though I did think the poison sequence and the two depressed women in the hall sequence were totally creepy.

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

One of Val Lewton's most haunting films with a very dark ending

July 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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