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SEVENTH VICTIM, THE(director: Mark Robson; screenwriters: De witt Bodeen/ Charles O’Neal; cinematographer: Nick Musuraca; editor: John Lockert; cast: Kim Hunter (Mary Gibson), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Hugh Beaumont (Gregory Ward), Isabel Jewell (Frances Fallon), Jean Brooks (Jacqueline Gibson), Evelyn Brent (Natalie Cortez), Elizabeth Russell (Mimi), Erfort Gage (Jason Hoag), Mary Newton (Mrs. Redi), Lou Lubin (Irving August), Marguerite Sylva (Bela Romari), Chef Joseph Milani (Mr. Romari); Runtime: 71; producer: Val Lewton; RKO release; 1943)
“There was also an eerie shower scene that predates Psycho’s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Russian émigré Val Lewton produced this pulp fiction cinema about a young girl searching for her missing sister who runs into a murder amidst a group of NYC Satanists. Lewton’s fingerprints are all over the literary script that was made into an intelligent, well-crafted and bizarre thriller. It is noirish in attitude and Gothic in tone, enhanced by dark shadowy cinematography and Mark Robson’s crisp direction, which brings about a mixture of ominous danger and a feel for the offbeat. It opens with a grim John Donne poem to set the stage for the upcoming action: “I run to death, and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday… .”

In an upstate boarding school, Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) is told by the headmistress that she will have to leave school because her sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) hasn’t paid her tuition for months and can’t be located. Mary decides to go to NYC and see what’s up with Jacqueline (Jean Brooks).

While searching for her missing sis, Mary is befriended by a couple who own a quaint Greenwich Village restaurant and learns that Jacqueline rented a room from the couple but hasn’t been seen living in it. Checking the room they discover a chair and a hangman’s noose suspended from the ceiling in an otherwise bare room. Mary gets further help from the following individuals in her plight: Jason Hoag (Gage) is a failed poet, living in what goes for an impoverished artist’s garret that has a beautiful skylight (a place like that in the current Village real estate market would go for a small fortune), who hasn’t published in ten years after writing a critically acclaimed first book. Jason feels inspired by Mary’s innocence to help look for her sister. Irving August (Lou Lubin), an ambulance chasing private eye, who is curious about the case and decides to take it without his usual fee. August opens the wrong door trying to get info for Mary and is stabbed to death by someone unseen. Dr. Louis Judd (Tim Conway) is a slick shrink treating and romancing Jacqeline (certainly not ethical). Judd has Jacqeline hidden away on the pretext that she’s suicidal and deeply troubled, but he helps Mary relocate with her sister. Gregory Ward (Beaumont), Jaqueline’s wealthy lawyer husband, is looking for his wife, even though the marriage is a failed one. And, then, there is Mrs. Redi (Mary Newton), a manager in Jacqeline’s cosmetic plant, who tells Mary that her sister sold her the business, but Mary learned from August’ investigation that Jacqeline handed the business over to her without asking for a penny.

Mary is drawn into the strange world of Satanists when it is discovered Mrs. Redi is a member of that cult, and that her sister joined because she was bored and looking for kicks and was not really a believer in such things. She joined not realizing the dangers involved. The group had six other cult members commit suicide and Jacqeline is to be the seventh victim, unless Mary and her friends can help.

It’s easy to see some of the film’s flaws such as cramming too much story into such a short time frame of 71 minutes. But it is better to concentrate on the positives: it’s an artfully told B-film and all the personal touches make the film seem so clever. When viewed that way this low-budget film is simply superb, equal to producer Val Lewton’s “Cat People“(42). For its time period of the 1940s, it bravely touches on suicide as a necessary part of the plot and covers Satanic cults in a mature manner, by showing that ordinary types can join such a cult. The film hints at lesbianism and also reflects on characters with deep repressions who are trapped by their psychological problems. The film sold me as soon as I saw Satanism prospering in the trendy confines of bohemian Greenwich Village, which gave the film a quaint touch.

“The Seventh Victim” caught in a poetic way the arty Village atmosphere of the time and the feelings of doom the characters all felt. There was also an eerie shower scene that predates Psycho’s, showing the threatening figure of Mrs. Redi wearing a hat and casting her shadow on Mary’s shower curtain — it makes her look like a Satanic figure.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”