The Seventh Victim
”The Seventh Victim” is the third Val Lawton film on the list (After “Cat People” and “I Walked with a Zombie”) and the Book name this one as probably the best one of them. That sure sets my expectations high as I liked “Cat People” and also found that the zombie film have some very attractive elements.
However I am afraid I do not agree with the Book on this. “The Seventh Victim” is in my opinion a weaker film with many of the same problems as the former too but only little to redeem it.
The build-up is good. We have a mystery story that start out harmless enough, but gradually get stranger and stranger as we find out along with Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) that something is terribly wrong. Her sister is missing and tuition for Mary’s school is not being paid. She is given the choice of working for her stay or to leave the school. Mary decides to look up her sister, Jacqueline. In New York however she learns that Jacqueline is seriously missing. That she sold her cosmetics factory and that the room she left behind only contains a noose and a chair as if in preparation for hanging herself.
Up to this point the film works quite well. The sense of something very wrong is creeping in on us and the darkness of the filming supports this feeling.
But then we are introduced to a number of characters who are so strange, cliché and or full of airs that the film tips over and gets cheesy and stupid.
Let us take them in random order.
Mary meets the private detective Irving August (Lou Lubin) who not only eagerly tries to sell her his services, but practically offers to do it for free and has a strange knack of knowing where to look. He is seriously annoying, but is quickly dispatched of. His only good contribution to the film is the appearance of his corpse on the subway.
Then we have Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont), a lawyer who offers to help. At first he seem fair enough but gets seriously creepy when we learn that he is actually secretly married to Jacqueline but hitting on her much younger sister. How interested is he really in finding Jacqueline and how come her husband knows so little of her whereabouts and is so blasé about it? Is he a jerk or an asshole or just stupid?
Then there is the poet Jason Hoag (Erford Gage). He happens to be a random guest at the inn Mary is staying at. The landlady send him over to her and Ward to cheer them up (why? They have serious matters to discuss) and out of the blue he declares that he will help her find Jacqueline. Did I just miss something? How did he know they were looking for her? And tada, it turns out he knows the mysterious doctor Judd. Hoag is the happy boy with a lot of solutions and claims Mary has helped him start writing again. So is he in love with her? Dunno, although it may appear so he spends a considerable part of the movie convincing Ward and Mary that they love each other. Eh…
The mysterious Doctor Judd is played by Tom Conway, a familiar face from the other films. His affected British accent and arrogant manners have all through rubbed me the wrong way, but never so bad as in “The Seventh Victim”. What is it with this dude? Seriously? So, he claims to be Jacqueline’s therapist. He keeps her hidden, even from her husband, and appears to be researching a mysterious secret society. Yet they are not any more mysterious than that he can walk right into their sessions at will. Judd fires off so much pseudo-psychological bullshit yet he is in fact entirely passive both concerning Jacqueline and the society.
But the biggest laugh goes to the society itself. The film seeks to present it is as sinister and dark and with a reach where no one is safe. Yet this is about the most passive and unfrightening bunch of devil worshippers to ever grace the silver screen. They seem powerless to actually kill Jacqueline (they break of the attempt to provoke Jacqueline to kill herself when one of their members cry out and plead for her) and these guys have not killed six other fellows, no, that is through the entire history of this apparently ancient society. In fact they did not even kill August, they just had to dispose of the body which they clumsily took on a subway ride. When finally Judd and co walk right into their session it feels exactly like the schoolmaster coming into a class to scold the unruly children for misbehaving. For a satanic cult these are a bunch of amateurs.
There is a lot of B in this film. In the acting, yes, but particularly in the lines. They are cheesy and artificial and almost a mockery of a horror film. At times I was wondering if I was watching the original or a spoof on it. It was that bad.
The saving grace of Val Lewtons films have previously been the cinematography, particularly the lighting. This is also the strongest side of this film, but you can really tell that this is a different director. He tries but does not achieve that eerie ambience his predecessor excelled at.
And Jacqueline herself? Hers is a half told story, certainly worth more than it is allocated in this film. She is a wreck, obsessed with death. She seeks it and runs from it and is finally caught up by it. I seriously doubt that the amateur cult has achieved this on their own. Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) is seriously ill and paranoid and frankly Doctor Judd is little help and her husband even less. I do feel sorry for her abandoned as she is by husband, doctor, sister, friends and director.