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I Walked with a Zombie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I Walked with a Zombie
I Walked With a Zombie (1943 poster).jpeg
Theatrical release poster by William Rose
Directed byJacques Tourneur
Written by
Based on
Produced byVal Lewton
Starring
Narrated byFrances Dee
CinematographyJ. Roy Hunt
Edited byMark Robson
Music byRoy Webb
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • April 21, 1943 (1943-04-21) (New York City)
  • April 30, 1943 (1943-04-30) (U.S.)
Running time
69 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

I Walked with a Zombie is a 1943 American horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures. It stars James Ellison, Frances Dee, and Tom Conway, and follows a nurse who travels to care for the ailing wife of a sugar plantation owner in the Caribbean, where she witnesses voodoo rituals and possibly encounters the walking dead. The film's screenplay, written by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, is based on an article of the same title by Inez Wallace, and also partly reinterprets the narrative of the 1847 novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.[1]

I Walked with a Zombie premiered in New York City on April 21, 1943, before receiving a wider theatrical release later that month. The film has been analyzed for its themes of slavery and racism, and for its depiction of beliefs associated with African diaspora religions, particularly Haitian Vodou. Though it received mixed reviews upon release, retrospective assessments have been more positive.

Plot

Darby Jones as the zombie-like Carrefour
Darby Jones as the zombie-like Carrefour

Betsy Connell, a white Canadian nurse, relates that she once "walked with a zombie."

Betsy is hired to care for the wife of Paul Holland, a sugar plantation owner on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. Saint Sebastian is home to a small white community and descendants of African slaves. On the way to the plantation, the black driver tells Betsy that the Hollands brought slaves to the island, and that the statue of "Ti-Misery" (Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows) in the courtyard is the figurehead from a slave ship.

At dinner, Betsy meets Paul's half-brother and employee, Wesley Rand, who clearly resents Paul. While getting ready for bed, Betsy hears crying. When she investigates, a woman in a white robe walks towards her, her eyes staring. Betsy screams, waking everyone. The woman is Jessica Holland, Paul's wife whom Betsy is to care for. The next morning, Dr. Maxwell tells Betsy that Jessica's spinal cord was irreparably damaged by a serious illness, leaving her totally without the willpower to do anything for herself.

On her day off, Betsy encounters Wesley in town. While he drinks himself into a stupor, a calypso singer sings about how Jessica was going to run away with Wesley, but Paul would not let them go; she was then struck down by the fever. Betsy meets Mrs. Rand, Paul and Wesley's doctor mother.

That night at dinner, Wesley accuses Paul of being responsible for Jessica's condition. Later, Paul, whom Betsy has been falling in love with, apologizes to her for bringing her to the island, and admits that he may have been the cause of his wife's condition. Betsy determines to make him happy by curing Jessica.

Betsy gets Paul to agree to try a potentially fatal insulin shock treatment on Jessica, but it has no effect. Housemaid Alma then tells her that a houngan, or voodoo priest, cured a woman of a similar condition. Betsy takes Jessica without permission through cane fields past a crossroads guarded by Carrefour[a] to the houmfort (a place where voodoo worshipers gather). There, they watch a sabreur wield a saber during a ritual. People are given advice by a voodoo priest, whom Betsy is shocked to find is Mrs. Rand. Mrs. Rand explains that she uses voodoo to convince the natives to accept conventional medical practices and tells Betsy that Jessica is incurable. Outside, the locals stab Jessica in the arm with the sword as a test. When she does not bleed, they are convinced she is a zombie.

Betsy takes Jessica home. Paul is furious, but is moved when he realizes that Betsy was trying to cure Jessica. The local authorities investigate the next day, and the natives demand that Jessica be returned to them for further ritualistic tests. Later, Carrefour approaches the residence, and Mrs. Rand orders him to leave. Paul suggests that Betsy return to Canada, regretting entangling her in his family problems and fearful of demeaning and abusing her as he did Jessica. Betsy reluctantly agrees.

The next day, Dr. Maxwell reports that the unrest has sparked an official inquiry into Jessica's illness. Mrs. Rand claims that Jessica is a zombie. Although she had never taken voodoo seriously before, Mrs. Rand reveals that when she discovered that Jessica was planning to run away with Wesley and break up her family, she felt herself possessed by a voodoo god. She then put a curse on Jessica. Paul, Maxwell and Betsy dismiss her story, but Wesley becomes obsessed with freeing Jessica. He asks Betsy if she would consider euthanasia, but she refuses.

Using an effigy of Jessica, the sabreur twice attempts to draw her to him from afar. Paul and Betsy stop her the first time, but Wesley allows Jessica to leave the second time. Wesley pulls an arrow out of the statue of Ti-Misery and follows. As the sabreur stabs the doll with a pin, Wesley thrusts the arrow into Jessica. He then carries her body into the sea, pursued slowly by Carrefour. Later, the natives discover the bodies of Jessica and Wesley floating in the surf.

Cast

Themes and interpretations

Slavery and racism

"Carre-Four must have confronted audiences that summer as an especially charged figure, even if his exact significance requires after-the-fact interpretation. An iconography of racial violence haunts his scenes even amid the erasure of rope-and-gun specifics. Alone, dead, beautifully and self-consciously staged, facing the audience directly and meant for its inspection alone in a story explicitly about a people's long memories of slavery, he is disquietingly insisted upon."

Alexander Nemerov on the character of Carrefour[5]

Historian and author Alexander Nemerov writes that I Walked with a Zombie uses stillness as a metaphor for slavery, "in ways that center on Carre-Four."[6] The inanimate figurehead of "Ti-Misery" that appears in the film, a depiction of Saint Sebastian pierced with arrows, is said to have been taken from the slave ship that brought the first black slaves to the island on which the film is set.[6][7] Writer Lee Mandelo characterizes the figurehead as a symbolic representation of "brutality and intense suffering".[7]

Nemerov asserts that both Ti-Misery and Carrefour "conjure the lynching of a black man."[8] He adds that the film's final scene, which ends with a shot of Ti-Misery, especially establishes the figurehead as an image reminiscent of lynching.[8] He references narration provided by a black man's voice in the final scene which tells the audience to "'pity those who are dead, and wish peace and happiness to the living'—a statement meant to encompass the white characters [...] But the decision to end with the sculpture of Ti Misery and the voice of the black man directs these sentiments back to 'the misery and pain of slavery.'"[9] Noting that the film was released during World War II, Nemerov writes that "the film's final words and image implied a Willkie-style acknowledgement of injustice at home."[9] Mandelo, conversely, laments that the film's initial thematic arc, which he writes "[makes] a few grasps for a more sensitive commentary", is "flipped around to discuss the 'enslavement' of the beautiful white woman, Jessica, who has been either made a zombie or is an up-and-moving catatonic. [...] That final switch is flinch-inducing, as it takes the suffering of the black population of the island and gives it over to a white woman".[7]

Nemerov and Mandelo note the film's references of crying at the birth of a child and laughing at a funeral, which the latter calls "a cultural tradition that comes from a life without freedom".[6][7]

According to Nemerov, Carrefour, "like the slave ship's figurehead, is a static and insentient figure" that personifies a link between slavery and the concept of zombies; Nemerov cites the following statement by anthropologist Wade Davis: "Zombis do not speak, cannot fend for themselves, do not even know their names. Their fate is enslavement."[8] Nemerov characterizes Darby Jones' portrayal of Carrefour as being a "monumental [...] dominant screen presence"[10] that, in the context of World War II and the American Double V campaign, "equaled the performances of far more famous black actors in the depiction of a charged conceit: the black man standing alone."[11] He adds that Carrefour "suggests the violent subjugation and the emergent power of blacks" during World War II, calling the character "a simultaneous portrayal of strength and victimization".[5]

Writer Jim Vorel asserts that "Although the setting of the film is a post-slavery island of Saint Sebastian, the film's constant visual motifs of bondage and servitude never allow the viewer to forget the horrors of their not-so-distant past."[12] Regarding Carrefour, writer Vikram Murthi asserts that "It's not his visage that unsettles, but rather the history beneath his face. It's no wonder that neither the Hollands nor Betsy can hardly bear to stare at him; he reflects the corrosion of their collective soul."[3]

Voodoo

A scene taking place in a houmfort, a temple in Haitian Vodou
A scene taking place in a houmfort, a temple in Haitian Vodou

Vorel argues that I Walked with a Zombie approaches the beliefs associated with African diaspora religions, particularly Haitian Vodou, in a more thoughtful manner than prior films such as White Zombie (1932).[12] Vorel writes that I Walked with a Zombie "not only depict[s] them with surprising accuracy and dignity, but consider[s] how those beliefs could be co-opted by the white man as one more element of control over the lives of the island inhabitants."[12]

Nemerov compares the setting of the houmfort, with its black attendees and musical performances, to a Harlem nightclub.[13] He also notes that the film's depiction of a performance of the Haitian Vodou song "O Legba", provided to the film by folklorist Leroy Antoine, reflects research on voodoo conducted by the filmmakers.[4] Additionally, he writes that when Alma instructs Betsy on how to reach the houmfort, "her description of Carre-Four as a 'god' sounds almost like 'guard,' and the two words combine not only to define his voodoo role, guardian of the crossroads, but also to assert the importance of his triviality: like the doorman at an actual club, he is a guard who holds godlike power."[14]

Haitian Vodou researcher Laënnec Hurbon thinks that the "director displayed Haitian voodoo as a series of bizarre practices, chief among them the sorcerers' ability to kill people and then reanimate them in a state of living death. The idea flourished."[15]

Production

Development

Producer Val Lewton was obligated to use the film's title by RKO executives,[16] which they had culled from an article of the same name written by Inez Wallace for American Weekly Magazine.[17] Wallace's article detailed her own experience meeting "zombies" — not the literal living dead, but rather people she had encountered working on a plantation in Haiti whose vocal cords and cognitive abilities had been impaired by drug use, rendering them obedient servants who understood and followed simple orders.[18]

In devising the screenplay, Lewton asked his writers to use Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre as a model for its narrative structure, and to undertake research on Haitian voodoo practices.[19] Lewton purportedly proclaimed that he wanted to make a "West Indian version of Jane Eyre."[20] Screenwriters Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray were appointed to write the script; Siodmak's original draft revolved around the wife of a plantation owner who is made into a zombie to prevent her from leaving to Paris, but the screenplay underwent significant revisions by Wray and Lewton.[21]

Casting

Anna Lee was originally slated for the Frances Dee role, but had to bow out due to another commitment.[22]

Filming

Principal photography for I Walked with a Zombie began October 26, 1942.[21] Wray described the film as being shot on a "shoestring budget."[21] Shooting was completed less than one month later on November 19.[23] Frances Dee received $6,000 for her performance in the film.[11] Darby Jones earned a total of $225 for his role, a rate of $75 a day for three days based on his weekly contract salary of $450.[11]

Release

Theatrical distribution

A theater in Montreal featuring I Walked with a Zombie
A theater in Montreal featuring I Walked with a Zombie

I Walked with a Zombie had its theatrical premiere in Cleveland, Ohio in April 1943, the hometown of the source material's author, Inez Wallace.[24] It opened in New York City on April 21, 1943, before expanding wide on April 30.[25] It continued to screen in North American theaters throughout the year, with screenings beginning as late as December 19, 1943 in Casper, Wyoming.[26]

The film was re-released in the United States through RKO in 1956, opening in Los Angeles in July of that year.[27] It continued to screen throughout the country during the fall of 1956, into late December.[28][29]

Home media

The film was released on DVD in 2005 by Warner Home Video as a double-feature disc with The Body Snatcher (1945).[30] This disc was featured in a Val Lewton box set released the same year.[30]

Reception

Contemporaneous reviews

Initial reception for I Walked with a Zombie was mixed. The New York Times was critical of the film, calling it "a dull, disgusting exaggeration of an unhealthy, abnormal concept of life".[31] Wanda Hale of the New York Daily News praised it as a "spine-chilling horror film," awarding it two-and-a-half out of three stars.[32] A critic of The Boston Globe felt the film "gets nowhere in the telling and finishes its overdone melodramatics with a most unconvincing climax."[33] A reviewer in Albany, New York thought it well-suited for its likely viewers: "rigs up a great atmosphere for the haunt and holler audience and, compared with 'Cat People,' the movie with which it is mentioned most often in publicity, it is a success.[34]

Retrospective assessments

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, I Walked with a Zombie holds an approval rating of 85% based on 33 reviews, and an average rating of 8.1/10. Its consensus reads, "Evocative direction by Jacques Tourneur collides with the low-rent production values of exploitateer Val Lewton in I Walked with a Zombie, a sultry sleeper that's simultaneously smarmy, eloquent and fascinating."[35]

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin rated the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, praising the film's atmosphere and story, calling it "[an] Exceptional Val Lewton chiller".[36] Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews awarded the film a grade A, praising the film's atmosphere, Tourneur's direction, and story.[37] TV Guide awarded the film their highest rating of 5/5 stars, calling it "an unqualified horror masterpiece".[38] Alan Jones from Radio Times gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Jacques Tourneur's direction creates palpable fear and tension in a typically low-key nightmare from the Lewton fright factory. The lighting, shadows, exotic setting and music all contribute to the immensely disturbing atmosphere, making this stunning piece of poetic horror a classic of the genre."[39]

In 2007, Stylus Magazine named I Walked with a Zombie the fifth best zombie film of all time.[40]

Notes

  1. ^ Also spelled as "Carre-Four".[2][3] The name is a reference to the loa Maitre Carrefours.[citation needed]

References

  1. ^ Bansak 2003, pp. 146–147.
  2. ^ Nemerov 2005, p. 97–98, 102–108, 112–119.
  3. ^ a b Murthi, Vikram (September 2, 2015). "Criticwire Classic of the Week: 'I Walked With a Zombie'". IndieWire. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Nemerov 2005, p. 118.
  5. ^ a b Nemerov 2005, p. 112.
  6. ^ a b c Nemerov 2005, p. 103.
  7. ^ a b c d Mandelo, Lee (February 6, 2020). "Changing Metaphors: On I Walked With a Zombie (1943)". Tor.com. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Nemerov 2005, p. 104.
  9. ^ a b Nemerov 2005, p. 108.
  10. ^ Nemerov 2005, p. 99, 116.
  11. ^ a b c Nemerov 2005, p. 114.
  12. ^ a b c Vorel, Jim (August 16, 2019). "The Best Horror Movie of 1943: I Walked With a Zombie". Paste. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  13. ^ Nemerov 2005, p. 118–119.
  14. ^ Nemerov 2005, p. 119.
  15. ^ Hurbon 1995, p. 59.
  16. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 143.
  17. ^ Wallace 1986, pp. 95–102.
  18. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 146.
  19. ^ Bowen, Peter (April 21, 2010). "I Walked with a Zombie". Focus Features. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011.
  20. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 145.
  21. ^ a b c Bansak 2003, p. 147.
  22. ^ Hanson & Dunkleberger 1999, p. 1127.
  23. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 149.
  24. ^ "Cleveland Views Local Girls' Film". The Gazette. Montreal, Quebec. April 20, 1943. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  25. ^ "I Walked with a Zombie". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  26. ^ "'I Walked with a Zombie' and 'Souls at Sea' at the Rialto". Casper Star-Tribune. Casper, Wyoming. December 19, 1943. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  27. ^ "West Coast Fox Theatres program". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. July 3, 1956. p. 12 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  28. ^ "New, Old Films Vie For Orlando Interest This Week". Orlando Sentinel. Orlando, Florida. December 23, 1956. p. 8-C – via Newspapers.com. open access
  29. ^ "Today's Film Showtimes". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. December 22, 1956. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  30. ^ a b Erickson, Glenn (September 9, 2005). "DVD Savant Review: The Val Lewton Collection". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on July 28, 2012.
  31. ^ "At the Rialto - The New York Times". New York Times.com. T.M.P. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  32. ^ Hale, Wanda (April 22, 1943). "'China' Good War Film On Paramount Screen". New York Daily News. p. 44 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  33. ^ "New Films". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts. April 22, 1943. p. 21 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  34. ^ Bradt, Clif. "Voodooland Featured in Film at Grand." The Knickerbocker News (Albany, NY), 15 May 1943.
  35. ^ "I Walked with a Zombie (1943) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Flixter. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  36. ^ Leonard Maltin (3 September 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 716. ISBN 978-1-101-60955-2.
  37. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "iwalkedwithazombie". Sover.net. Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  38. ^ "I Walked With A Zombie - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide.com. TV Guide. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  39. ^ Jones, Alan. "I Walked with a Zombie – review". Radio Times.com. Alan Jones. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  40. ^ Stylus Magazine's Top 10 Zombie Films of All Time – Movie Review – Stylus Magazine

Bibliography

External links

This page was last edited on 25 May 2022, at 14:12
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