Friday, October 12, 2012

The Next Victim Is the Viewer: "The Seventh Victim" (1943)

Val Lewton's outing has all the earmarks of his other films- dread, shadows, and horror. "The Seventh Victim" also dies an early death, about twenty minutes before the film ends.

Mary (Kim Hunter) learns her older sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) is missing in New York City. She leaves the boarding school her sister was paying for to find her. Jacqueline has sold her cosmetics company to the abrupt Mrs. Redi, and Mary always seems to be just a few steps behind her sibling. As she follows the very strange clues, she meets lawyer Mr. WARD (Hugh Beaumont, you know, Beaver's dad), poet Jason (Erford Gage), and psychiatrist Dr. Judd (Errol Flynn look alike Tom Conway). All three men have pasts with each other, and Jacqueline, and Mary eventually stumbles on her sister's devilish new friends.

For most of its seventy-one minutes, "The Seventh Victim" works. Hunter is beautiful and believable as Mary. Even Beaumont is good in an unfamiliar role, as his character begins falling for Mary. Mark Robson does a good job with little, with many scenes standing out. My favorite involves Mary's shower being interrupted by a threatening Mrs. Redi.

However, once the big secret is revealed, the film's focus shifts from Mary to Jacqueline, who is woefully miscast. Before our first glimpse of Jacqueline, every character who came in contact with her is almost speechless about her beauty, poise, and presence. After I saw Jacqueline, I wondered where all the allure was. She is okay, but the part screamed for the scenery chomping Joan Crawford-type, not a mousy woman in furs and a poor wig.

The film is rich with texture, but the last third of it is a real letdown. After watching the heavy-handed Christian message delivered, I felt as betrayed as the devil worshipping cult in the film. "The Seventh Victim" appeals to Lewton completists, so I will slightly recommend it. (* * *) out of five stars.