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The Seventh Victim

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Seventh Victim
Seventh-victim-poster one sheet.jpg
Theatrical release poster by William Rose
Directed byMark Robson
Produced byVal Lewton
Written by
Starring
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyNicholas Musuraca
Edited byJohn Lockert
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • August 21, 1943 (1943-08-21)
Running time
71 minutes[1][2]
LanguageEnglish

The Seventh Victim is a 1943 American horror film noir directed by Mark Robson and starring Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter, and Hugh Beaumont. Written by DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O'Neal, and produced by Val Lewton for RKO Radio Pictures, the film focuses on a young woman who stumbles on an underground cult of devil worshippers in Greenwich Village, New York City, while searching for her missing sister. It marks Robson's directorial debut and was Hunter's first onscreen role.

O'Neal had written the script as a murder mystery, set in California, that followed a woman hunted by a serial killer. Bodeen revised the script, basing the story on a Satanic society he had encountered in New York City. Filming took place over 24 days in May 1943 at RKO Studios in Los Angeles.

Released on August 21, 1943, the film failed to garner significant income at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics, who found its narrative incoherence a primary fault. It was later revealed that Robson and an editor, John Lockert, had removed four substantial scenes from the final cut, including an extended conclusion. In spite of its mixed reception, the film became a cult film in England, noted by critics for its homoerotic undertones.

Plot

Mary Gibson, a young woman at Highcliffe Academy, a Catholic boarding school, learns that her older sister and only relative, Jacqueline, has gone missing and has not paid Mary's tuition in months. The school officials tell Mary she can remain enrolled only if she works for the school. Mary decides to leave school to find her sister, who owns La Sagesse, a cosmetics company in New York City.

Upon arriving in New York, Mary finds that Jacqueline sold her cosmetics business eight months earlier. Jacqueline's close friend and former employee, Frances Fallon, claims to have seen Jacqueline the week before, and suggests that Mary visit Dante's, an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mary locates the restaurant, and discovers that Jacqueline has rented a room above the store, without having moved in. Mary convinces the owners to let her see the room, which she finds empty aside from a wooden chair and above it a noose hanging from the ceiling. This makes Mary more anxious and determined to find her sister.

Mary's investigation leads her to several individuals who knew Jacqueline, including her secret husband, attorney Gregory Ward, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Judd. Mary learns Jacqueline had been a patient of Judd's, seeking treatment for depression stemming from her membership in a Satanic cult called the Palladists. Jacqueline was lured into joining the cult by her former co-workers at La Sagesse, particularly Esther Redi, who has since taken over the company in Jacqueline's absence. Mary enlists a private detective, Irving August, to help locate Jacqueline. When Mary accompanies him to the La Sagesse headquarters after hours, Irving is stabbed to death by an unseen assailant. Mary flees into the subway, where she witnesses two formally-dressed men enter her car, carrying Irving's corpse between them. She attempts to alert police, but the men vanish with Irving's body before they arrive.

Judd approaches Mary, and offers to bring her to visit Jacqueline at his residence, where she has been in hiding. There, Mary is briefly met by Jacqueline, who gestures her to be quiet before again vanishing. Determined to remain in New York, Mary takes a job at a kindergarten, and develops a romance with Jason Hoag, a poet. Some time later, Esther breaks into Mary's apartment and confronts her in the shower, claiming that Jacqueline murdered Irving and urges Mary to return to Highcliffe. Mary heeds Esther's warning, and informs both Gregory and Jason, who resolve to locate Jacqueline and have her surrender herself to police for Irving's murder. They unite with Judd, who takes them to meet Jacqueline. Jacqueline recounts how she came to join the Palladists, as well as how she inadvertently killed Irving, believing him to be one of them.

The Palladists congregate—Frances among them—and contemplate how to kill Jacqueline in retaliation for her revealing the organization to Judd. She would be the seventh person so condemned since the founding of the cult. Frances, who has a profound attachment to Jacqueline, begs the cult members to spare her. The cultists kidnap Jacqueline, but, squeamish about committing acts of violence, decide that she should kill herself, as she has long been suicidal anyway. They offer her a cup of poison. When she refuses to drink it, they let her leave, but send an assassin to follow her. The assassin chases her through the streets with a switchblade, but she eludes him and returns to her apartment above Dante's. Simultaneously, Jason and Judd confront the Palladists, condemning them for their dedication to evil, and recite the Lord's Prayer in response to Mr. Brun, a high-ranking member of the cult, boasting with a nihilistic philosophical explanation for their doctrine.

In her apartment hallway, Jacqueline briefly encounters her neighbor, Mimi, a young woman who is terminally ill. Mimi confesses to Jacqueline that she is afraid to die, and plans to have one last night out on the town. Jacqueline enters her own apartment and hangs herself. The thud of the chair falling over is heard, but Mimi does not recognize the sound as she leaves for the evening.

Cast

Themes and analysis

The fate of Jean Brooks' character in the film has been described as one of the most "baffling" in horror film history[3]
The fate of Jean Brooks' character in the film has been described as one of the most "baffling" in horror film history[3]

Nihilism

Most controversially, the film resolves with the suicide of one of the main characters (contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the Production Code).[4] Film historian Steve Haberman, in his audio commentary for the 2005 Warner Bros. DVD release of the film, characterized Jacqueline as the film's philosophical center, noting her existentialist views: "Her life is the very nightmare version of life that Val Lewton portrays in many of his movies: a meaningless existence, trying to find meaning, always failing and in the end seeking a sort of peace through death."[5] Film scholar J.P. Telotte echoed this sentiment, stating: "The Seventh Victim explores certain ineffable fears that always haunt the human psyche, especially a fear of meaninglessness or the irrational which can make death seem almost a welcome release from life."[6]

Homoeroticism

Critics have noted homosexual undercurrents running through the film,[7] particularly in Jacqueline's character and her relationship with Frances, a cult member who is an employee at the company she formerly owned. The film was featured in Turner Classic Movies Channel's Screened Out, which celebrated gay and lesbian themes in classic Hollywood cinema.[8] Other film theorists, such as Harry M. Benshoff, author of Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film (1997), have read the film's anchoring of its Palladist characters in Greenwich Village—a neighborhood with a history of gay and lesbian residents—as another prominent undercurrent.[9] In his assessment of the film, Benshoff notes: "The Seventh Victim invokes the analogy in ways more sympathetic to homosexuality. While it could have easily fallen into the trap of using gay and lesbian signifiers to characterize its villains (i.e. homosexual = Satanist, as did Universal's The Black Cat in 1934), the film is much more complex than that."[10] Additionally, Benshoff notes that while contemporary reviews did not comment on the film's homosexual undertones, they did note its "baffling" subtleties.[10]

Production

Development

Early conceptual artwork for The Seventh Victim; the plot snippet suggests this was inspired by an earlier draft of the script, which featured a woman hunted by a serial killer.[11]
Early conceptual artwork for The Seventh Victim; the plot snippet suggests this was inspired by an earlier draft of the script, which featured a woman hunted by a serial killer.[11]

The script for The Seventh Victim went through several incarnations in the pre-production process. One version focused on an orphan caught in a murder plot amid California's Signal Hill oil wells;[11] in this narrative, the heroine needed to solve the orphan's identity, saving him from becoming the seventh victim of the unknown killer.[1] This version of the script was re-written entirely by DeWitt Bodeen under the supervision of producer Val Lewton. The new plot followed a young woman who uncovers a cult of Satanists in Greenwich Village. Bodeen purportedly based his idea for the film on a real Satanic society he had encountered in New York.[12] The script incorporated other elements of his experiences in New York: Jacqueline's cosmetics business, La Sagesse, was inspired by his previous work as a journalist reporting on cosmetic companies, and the Italian restaurant, Dante's, was based on Barbetta, a restaurant in Manhattan's Theater District.[13]

Filming

Mark Robson, a Canadian editor who had worked as an assistant on Citizen Kane, was signed to direct the film, his directorial debut.[14] It was shot over 24 days at RKO's Gower Street studio in Los Angeles, California,[15] beginning on May 5, 1943, and concluding on May 29.[16] The opening scene at the boarding school used the set featured in RKO's The Magnificent Ambersons, released the year before.[15]

Post-production

Mark Robson and John Lockert[17] made multiple edits to the film during post-production, according to Lewton and Bodeen, resulting in a slightly "disjointed" narrative.[16] Lewton's son spoke about this in a 2003 interview:

[My father's] scripts were very specific about set design, camera direction, and also what you usually left to one editor—dissolves, cuts, and so on. Much of the confusion in The Seventh Victim would have been eliminated if scenes weren't cut. There was a final scene, after the woman hanged herself, that was just a horrible rehash, and it was wisely cut. It's a great ending, with the final scene taken out, but that last shot (when we hear the chair fall) needs to hold for another four or five seconds, just enough time to let it sink in. But it doesn't. The movie just ends, and the reason was because they couldn't go back to reshoot it.

— Val E. Lewton, producer Val Lewton's son, on the film.[18]

According to Joel Siegel in Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror (1973), four key scenes were cut from the film, contributing to its narrative incoherence; among them are a sequence in which Gregory visits Mary at the kindergarten where she works, and Mary admits to him, "It would be easier if Jacqueline were dead." At the beginning of another scene—which remains in the final cut—Mary's supervisor says to her, "Aren't you the popular one? You've a visitor again," the last word making it clear she'd had an earlier visitor, Ward.[19] A second excised scene features Judd visiting Natalie Cortez, pretending to be interested in joining the Palladists. The two discuss philosophical matters, mainly the notion that if good exists, evil exists, and one is free to choose between the two. Cortez reveals that she became a Palladist because "Life has betrayed us. We've found that there is no heaven on earth, so we must worship evil for evil's sake."[19]

In a third excised scene, Judd again visits Natalie, indicating that he wishes to join the Palladists. In conversation, Judd unintentionally reveals that Jacqueline is staying with Mary at the rooming house. This makes the audience aware that the Palladists were able to trace Jacqueline to Mary's room to kidnap her. In the truncated theatrical print, how the Palladists found Jacqueline is left unclear.[19] In a final scene that followed Jacqueline's suicide, Mary, Gregory, and Jason meet at the Dante restaurant. Gregory and Mary go off together, leaving Jason standing before the restaurant's mural of Dante and Beatrice, making clear his failure as an artist and lover. He says to himself: "I am alive, yet every hope I had is dead. Death can be good. Death can be happy. If I could speak like Cyrano ... then perhaps, you might understand."[20]

Release

The film premiered in the United States on August 21, 1943.[21] Five days later, on August 26, according to the United States Copyright Office, it was registered for copyright by RKO Pictures.[22] On September 17, 1943, the film opened theatrically at the Rialto Theatre in New York City.[23] A total of $130,000 was spent on promotional material, including posters and lobby cards.[24]

Though box office data for the film is unknown, according to film historian John McElwee, The Seventh Victim did not fare well with audiences upon its theatrical release, and was not a box office success.[24] A cinema proprietor in South Carolina reported that theatergoers were disappointed: "We must have been the eighth victim; patrons walked out. Business poor. Some of the kids would not sit through it."[24] A.C. Edwards, a theater employee in Scotia, California, said it was "without doubt the most unsatisfactory picture we have any recollection of."[24] The failure to generate considerable income at the box office (on top of the financial failure of Lewton and Robson's follow-up picture, The Ghost Ship) would result in Lewton scrapping two planned projects, The Screaming Skull and The Amorous Ghost.[25]

Critical response

Contemporaneous

Some critics praised elements of the film, such as Kate Cameron of the New York Daily News, who felt that it established a "sinister atmosphere" and had an "incredible" story; she did, however, criticize the performance of Brooks, whom she wrote "gives no hint of the scintillating personality Jacqueline is supposed to possess, nor does she adequately intimate the terror and fear under which she is supposed to labor."[26] A critic from The Philadelphia Inquirer alternately praised Brooks's performance as well as those of the rest of the cast, and ultimately described the film as "eerie, anything but cheery...  Director Mark Robson didn't miss many tricks calculated to send chills down the spine."[27] Writing for the Big Spring Daily Herald, Jerry Cahill similarly felt that "the suspense of the picture is well carried out by the crack performances."[28]

A critic of the Republican Herald also praised the film for being "packed with a suspenseful action that builds from its quiet beginning to a hair-raising conclusion."[29] Grace Kingsley of the Los Angeles Times noted that "probably hardboiled mystery fans will be disappointed that none of the horrific rites are disclosed, but there are enough other chills and thrills to make up."[30] A critic for the Waxahachie Daily Light praised the film for its "gripping climax," deeming it a "thrilling horror drama."[31]

The film was likewise praised for the shadowy camera work by cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca,[32] but criticized by some for having too many characters and a storyline that lacked cohesion; among these critics were Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, who felt that the film "might make more sense if it was run backward."[33] Variety gave a negative review, noting: "A particularly poor script is the basis for the ills besetting this mystery melodrama. Even the occasional good performance can't offset this minor dealer."[34]

Retrospective

A key shower scene with Kim Hunter has been referenced by film historians as anticipating that of Psycho (1960).[35]
A key shower scene with Kim Hunter has been referenced by film historians as anticipating that of Psycho (1960).[35]

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum cited The Seventh Victim as one of his favorite horror films. Film historian Carlos Clarens also praised it, noting: "Rarely has a film succeeded so well in capturing the nocturnal menace of a large city, the terror underneath the everyday, the suggestion of hidden evil", and deemed it "hauntingly oppressive".[36] In Guide for the Film Fanatic, Danny Peary called the film "a complete original".[3]

TV Guide gave the film four out of five stars, noting: "While very little in the way of horrific action takes place in The Seventh Victim, the film has a haunting, lyrical, overwhelming sense of melancholy and despair to it—death is looked upon as a sweet release from the oppression of a cold, meaningless existence." They considered its conclusion "without a doubt the bleakest ending to any film ever made in Hollywood."[37] Time Out London also praised the film, calling it Robson's "masterpiece, a brooding melodrama built around a group of Satanists ... the whole thing is held together by a remarkably effective mix of menace and metaphysics—half noir, half Gothic."[38]

In a retrospective review of the film in The New York Times, critic Caryn James wrote: "Despite its creaky plot, The Seventh Victim is one of Lewton's best movies, a triumph of style over sense." She also noted a "terrifying scene that anticipates Psycho [in which] Mary is shocked by a visitor who breaks in while she showers."[39] Other historians and critics, including Joel Siegel and Laurence Rickels, cited the scene as a potential precursor to the infamous shower murder in Psycho.[40][41]

As of February 2017, the film had an approval rating of 92% on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 13 reviews.[2]

Home media

The Seventh Victim was released on LaserDisc & VHS in 1986 by RKO Home Video,[42] and again on VHS in 2002.[43] It made its DVD debut on October 8, 2005, in a five-disc box set titled the Val Lewton Collection, comprising nine horror films released by RKO and produced by Lewton.[44] Other films in the set include Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Ghost Ship. The Seventh Victim was also paired on a single-disc DVD alongside Shadows in the Dark, a documentary on Lewton's career.[44]

Musical score

The score was composed by Roy Webb, and is possibly the only Hollywood film score of the period to end in a minor key.[45] Film historian Edward Bansak notes that Webb's score for the film is remarkably understated: "Rather than use a strong theme to accompany the chills, Webb relies upon single chords and ominous strains of dissonance that create an effect not unlike the characteristic work of Bernard Herrmann."[46]

On June 3, 2000, a compilation disc of Webb's musical scores from Lewton's series of horror films—titled Music from the Films of Val Lewton—was released by Alliance, featuring ten musical tracks from The Seventh Victim.[47]

Track listing

All tracks are written by Roy Webb.

Music from the Films of Val Lewton (tracks 17–26)
No.TitleLength
17."Main Title"1:11
18."Principal's Office"1:49
19."Mary Sees Jacqueline"3:31
20."Jacqueline Is Found"1:35
21."Jacqueline"0:57
22."The Palladists' Trial"3:03
23."The Chase"2:24
24."Desirous of Death"1:41
25."Love Scene"2:10
26."End Title"0:27

Related works

The film is loosely connected to Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942)—another film produced by Lewton—via the appearance the Dr. Louis Judd character, who appears in both films. In The Seventh Victim, Judd recounts to a poet that he once knew a mysterious woman who was in fact a "raving lunatic" (referencing Irena Dubrovna, the protagonist of Cat People).[48] In memos and early drafts of the script, Conway's character was referred to as "Mr. Siegfried"; film scholars believe that the character's name was changed to provide continuity between the two films and to capitalize on Cat People's success.[48] The Judd character, however, had died in Cat People, calling into question the relation of the two fictional narratives.[49] Lewton historian Edmund Bansak notes that the films are also linked thematically through a preoccupation with nihilism.[50]

References

  1. ^ a b c Pitts 2015, p. 276.
  2. ^ a b "The Seventh Victim (1943)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Peary 1986, p. 452.
  4. ^ Vieira, Mark A. (October 31, 2005). "Darkness, Darkness: The Films of Val Lewton: Looking Back at a B-Movie Master". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  5. ^ Haberman 2005, 1:09:22.
  6. ^ Telotte 1985, p. 77.
  7. ^ Benshoff 2015, p. 128.
  8. ^ Butler, Robert W. (June 3, 2007). "The secret is out in monthlong Turner Classic Movies series". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 23 August 2016. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  9. ^ Benshoff 1997, p. 102.
  10. ^ a b Benshoff 1997, p. 103.
  11. ^ a b Films in Review 1963, p. 219.
  12. ^ Mank 2009, p. 466.
  13. ^ Mank 2005, p. 253.
  14. ^ Murphy 2006, p. 519.
  15. ^ a b American Film Institute. "Movie Detail: The Seventh Victim". American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Bansak 2003, p. 185.
  17. ^ Siegel 1973, p. 129.
  18. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 197.
  19. ^ a b c Siegel 1973, p. 127.
  20. ^ Siegel 1973, p. 121.
  21. ^ Bowker 1971, p. 2133.
  22. ^ Library of Congress 1943, p. 127.
  23. ^ New York Times Staff (September 17, 1943). "Of Local Origin". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2018. (subscription required)
  24. ^ a b c d McElwee 2013, p. 114.
  25. ^ McElwee 2013, p. 118.
  26. ^ Cameron, Kate (September 18, 1943). "Rialto Has Shocker In 'Seventh Victim'". New York Daily News. New York City, New York. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ M.K. (November 5, 1943). "'The Seventh Victim' Opens; Thriller on Studio Screen". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ Cahill, Jerry (September 6, 1943). "Reviews of Previews". Big Spring Daily Herald. Big Spring, Texas. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ "Capitol Theatre". Republican Herald. Pottsville, Pennsylvania. October 1, 1943. p. 3 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ Kingsley, Grace (December 24, 1943). "'Ghost Ship,' 'Seventh Victim' Thrill". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
  31. ^ ""The Seventh Victim" Thrilling Horror Drama of Sensational Devil Worship Adventure". Waxahachie Daily Light. Waxahachie, Texas. November 21, 1943. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
  32. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 183.
  33. ^ Crowther 1943.
  34. ^ Variety Staff (December 31, 1943). "Review: 'The Seventh Victim'". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  35. ^ Prawer 1980, p. 36.
  36. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 195.
  37. ^ "The Seventh Victim". TV Guide. n.d. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  38. ^ C., A. "The Seventh Victim, directed by Mark Robson". Time Out. London, England. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  39. ^ James, Caryn (July 2, 1993). "Review/Film; Old Hollywood Horror, but With Depth and Flair". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  40. ^ Rickels 2016, p. 1.
  41. ^ Siegel 1973, p. 124.
  42. ^ Bowker 1988, p. 51.
  43. ^ Bleiler 2004, p. 550.
  44. ^ a b Gonzalez, Ed (October 8, 2005). "The Val Lewton Horror Collection". Slant. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  45. ^ Heffernan 1997, p. 272.
  46. ^ Bansak 2003, pp. 194–195.
  47. ^ Webb, Roy (2000). Roy Webb: Music from the Films of Val Lewton (Compact disc). Alliance. OCLC 47061166.
  48. ^ a b Snelson 2014, p. 179.
  49. ^ Christopher 2010, pp. 216–218.
  50. ^ Bansak 2003, p. 196.

Sources

Further reading

External links

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