Monday 29 July 2013

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Godfrey Ordner Alt
Sometimes a second viewing changes everything. I sensed “My Man Godfrey” had more to it than I got from my first viewing last year, but I was not prepared for the revelation I went through last night. Not at all.

It all comes down to sound quality. The DVD I bought comes with a terrible sound quality and no subtitles to back it up. For a movie relying so much on dialogue as “My Man Godfrey” that is a disaster. I subscribe to a streaming service (Viaplay), mostly because I can get children programs in Danish for my son, but it also carry a large chunk of typically second rate films. For some unexplained reason one of the very few old films on Viaplay is “My Man Godfrey”. With excellent sound and subtitles. I am back in business!

This is flat out, hands down one of the best films of the thirties! It is so funny. This is a total laugh. Though I tried to restrain myself not to wake up the sleeping family I had to surrender when the airhead of a daughter, Irene, had brought home a horse driven taxi from town and left the horse in the library. From then on the smile never left my face as it erupted in laughter every few minutes.

“My Man Godfrey” is essentially a proof that it is possible to make an intelligent movie about stupid people. Godfrey (William Powell), a derelict from the city dump with a secret past, is the voyeur that takes us into the madhouse which is the Bullocks family. Even the manner in which he is introduced to the family is bizarre as he is picked out as a prize in a scavenger game the rich are playing. Godfrey becomes the butler of the family, partly because of Irene’s (Carole Lombard) infatuation with him and partly to spite her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick).

Whereas Godfrey is the personification of common sense, resolution, decency and honesty the rest of the family is not and it is this juxtaposition that makes this film so funny. We see the family through his incredulous eyes and because he actually understands them we see right through them as well as their idiocy is exposed. Godfrey is not directly mocking the family, he is much too decent for that, but there is a hint of razor sharp sarcasm that cuts right to the bone of it and in a few remarks or even just a glance he can undress anyone in the family and funny enough they love him for it. That is how elegant he is.

Irene is the airhead younger daughter. She is full of drama and lives in her own blissful bubble. In a sense innocent, but that is just because of her infantile idiocy. She is basically a 10 year old spoiled girl in an adult body. Pouting, throwing fits, faking faints and desperately trying to manipulate her surroundings. She loves the idea of being in love with Godfrey (a protégé she calls it) and when he gently but firmly refuses her advances she launces all her infantile guns to get what she wants. Carole Lombard handles this excellently. The countless situations where her attempts misfires or fizzles are a joy to watch and are extremely funny. Irene really has no clue what is going on around her.

Her sister Cornelia is smarter, but just as spoiled a brat. She tries to control everything her way and when she cannot get what she wants or is obstructed she turns to dirty tricks to get her way. She is intrigant and mean and takes a certain delight in exposing Irene. The fact that Godfrey is impervious to her infuriates her and she is doing her damnest to discredit him, simply because he she cannot control him. She may not be so funny in her own right, but the clashes with Godfrey are hilarious. We smirk when he tells her outright to her face what a spoiled brat she is. Guess nobody ever told her that before.

My favorite character is the mother, Angelica Bullock (Alice Brady). She is idiocy incarnate, but what a happy idiocy. If this is how fun it is to be an idiot and an ignorant I would not mind being one. Listening to her ranting, chiding people or just firing off meaningless remarks is so much fun. I lost count on the times she made me laugh. Really, she just needs to walk into a room and I light up. Talk about a person living in blissful ignorance. Mrs. Bullock has her own pet (protégé), an obscure sycophant named Carlo. He is supposed to be an artist, but it is clear to anybody (in glimpses even to Irene) but Angelica that he is just sucking the teat of the family. He is Angelica’s accessory item and hilarious at that.

The only sort of normal member of the family is the father Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette). His frustrations with his family spill over in sarcasm that has absolutely no impact on the rest of the family. His exasperation is, yes, you got it, just another notch to the hilarity of this film.

All these priceless characters are tied together in a rapid fire script that holds up its pace throughout. I have learned to appreciate this aspect as the hallmark of quality in the comedies of the thirties. If you can keep up with the dialogue it is so rewarding. While I saw it I kept telling myself that this or that line I just had to quote for my review, but they all drowned out, hell, the entire script is a worthy quote!

The purpose of the film is clearly to expose the silliness of the idle rich in the face of the misery a large chunk of the population was facing during the depression. On this background the idiocy of the Bullock family gains poignancy. It is so absurd what these people are doing, when just around the corner people are starving. “My Man Godfrey” was a huge hit at the box office likely for this reason. It is infuriating but also gratifying to watch the rich dig their own grave when you have nothing yourself and Godfrey is the anchor, the worthy character that the average dude can respect and relate to.

If there is a single item that grates on me in this film (yes, I know, but I cannot help it) it is the ending. Considering what Godfrey has learned at the bosom of the Bullock family and that he represent everything they are not, how on earth can he fall for Irene and let her talk him into marrying her? It is presented as the natural outcome, but I see nothing natural about it. The only way I can rationalize it is that finally after all the internal exposure he has submitted the family to they are now coming back at him to get their revenge. He will have to live with that bunch of loonies for the rest of his life.

But never mind. I truly loved watching this film a second time. This will NOT be the last time.

Saturday 27 July 2013

The Seventh Victim (1943)

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.

Monday 22 July 2013

Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time
The famous Ginger Rogers – Fred Astaire duo have two entries on the list: “Top Hat” and “Swing Time”.  I think it was nice of the editors to let them have two instead of the usual single representative entry. Now, I do not know their musicals well enough to say if these two were the best picks. “Top Hat” seems obvious, “Cheek to cheek” secures it that spot, but “Swing Time” does not have any obvious attributes like that to make it deserve this slot on the List.

Instead “Swing Time” is very much a complete musical. A film that flows, easily, along with songs, dances and story in beautiful harmony. The acting is better here. Ginger shines and so does Fred and we as the audience are well entertained. 

It helps that “Swing Time” has more story to work with. The characters are better developed and less one dimensional. More real if you like. And I think the actors were given more space to act. Still it is a dream world, far from the reality of most people in 36, but then again, that is exactly the point of musicals.

Fred Astaire is John “Lucky” Garnett, a dancer-slash-gambler who is in New York to earn enough money to win back his fiancé. 25.000$ is what it takes, but with Lucky’s skill and luck with gambling that should not be too hard. However he soon meets dance instructor Penelope "Penny" Carroll (Ginger Rogers) and is so smitten by her that now it is about NOT getting the 25.000$ so he does not have to go back to the waiting fiancé. This of course means that we get a lot of the usual love-me-love-me-not and who is really in love with who or even telling the truth. That is inevitable, but it is quite charming.

I love the supporting cast. Helen Broderick is fantastic as Mabel Anderson, Penny’s friend and colleague and Victor Moore is good as the disastrous but loyal friend Edwin "Pop" Cardetti. However it was Eric Blore that really got me out of the chair. His may be a small part as the dance school manager, but he was so awesome. I have come to appreciate him and love him every time I see him.

However there is no way around it. The centerpiece of any 30’ies musical must be the music and the dancing and it works no doubt about it. Those two, Fred and Ginger, match each other so well and for a guy who considers dancing as entertainment a waste of time it is pretty big to say that I really enjoyed when they move across the floor. This is good stuff. Also I must say that Ginger Rogers look stunning here. Especially in the dress of the climactic scenes at the Silver Sandal (awesome name!), that dress is so flattering on her, not 30’ies at all. I already mentioned that the music does not have the stand-out quality of “Top Hat”, but it is not bad either. It works and that is the important thing.

Then there is the issue of the blackface. Well, I know this sort of thing is highly controversial, but I cannot really be offended by it. I just find it ridiculous and a symptom of the age. Black music was loved and envied, even recognized, but it was a little too much to bring on some black actors for any more than playing a servant. Then better get Fred Astaire to dress up like a clown and do some black dancing. Come on! I do not mind he is dancing in black style to some cool music, but really, he does not need to dress up like that. If they wanted a black guy they should have brought one in. That would have been awesome. Yet, it is a good act and Fred can really move. That stuff with the dancing shadows is really cool. Loved it.

I have to mentions the wedding scenes. There are two of them is this film, in the opening and in the end, and both of them are messed up. Really, if I was to marry in America I would surely go to Vegas and get one of those private instant Star Trek weddings or something like that, just to make sure that nobody can ruin it at the last minute. That ceremony MUST be the most dangerous moment in any relationship. It is becoming such a cliché that I cannot see a movie wedding without waiting for the interruption that jeopardizes the whole thing.

If “Swing Time” has an issue it may be that it is almost too sweet. There is sugar coating on everything. Even a missed wedding is handled with a smile and a go-get’em attitude. We are not for a second in doubt that Penny and Lucky will get each other and the crisis is resolved almost too easily. In the background however we have the much more interesting love story between Mabel and Pop. Now that is a love story to explore. Fun, chaotic and weird. I would have loved to see more of that.

“Swing time” is hot cocoa on a winter Sunday afternoon with the phone closed and the feet up. Easy and pleasant and all that dancing should work up a good appetite for dinner.

Friday 19 July 2013

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Due to a trip to Barcelona and particularly the bad case of cellulitis I caught there I have been very quiet on my blog for the past two weeks. Now my foot is recovering and the infection + antibiotics are ravaging me to a less extend so I am back to writing again.

Throughout the past two weeks I have been watching “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (TLDCB) in small installments. This is a bit of a monster at 2,5 hours so I had to break it up in pieces to fit it into a busy schedule.

TLDCB is an epic story about Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), a British officer of the upper class, told in flashback from the “present” of 1942. The flashbacks take us to 1902 in the aftermath of the Boer war, 1918 at the end of WWI and the moments leading up to “present” day of WWII.

Colonel Blimp was a caricature of the old school British officer going around at the time. He would be old, overweight and entirely out of touch with modern warfare and sentiments and more of a joke, really. What Powell and Pressburger wanted to do was to tell the story behind this person, make him a real character and much more sympathetic at that. 40 years earlier Candy was in perfect touch with reality, even a bit ahead of his time. He would rush headlong into a conflict and deal with it on the run instead of following the book. What happens is that the world moves along, but the circles in which Candy moves do not. He is at heart an imperial officer with a code of honor, a very British self-confidence that easily comes about as arrogant in its self-reliance. You simply do not get a more British stiff upper lip than under the impressive moustache of Clive Wynne-Candy.

The story is that of Candy and what made him the person he is, but it is also almost just as much the story of Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff  (Anton Walbrook), the German officer Clive meets in Berlin in 1902. In my opinion Theo is a much more complex character and his life is far more dramatic than Clive’s. Where Clive basically wades through life looking for a war or simply something to shoot while he is continually looking for someone like his lost Edith (Deborah Kerr), Theo moves with the time. He gets the girl, yes, but his not cushioned like Clive is. WWI has a much more direct impact on him, not only because he is on the losing side and has to spend time in a prison camp in England (which for the record looks more like a resort), but because he is returning to a broken country, not as an upper class officer, but as a nobody, an unwanted. He changes career and becomes a civilian, raising his children in the disaster zone which is Germany until the Nazi take over. When things turn from bad to worse he loses his children to the Nazi party and his wife to illness. Broken he leaves Germany for France and eventually at the outbreak of war ends up in England, an Alien Enemy with no rights what so ever. Theo is bitter, but also more clear-sighted all along, because he has to face reality, so where Clive and Theo start from the same location with the duel in 02, they end up two very different people in 42. Still best of friends, but separated by 40 years of reality.

Curiously Theodor  Kretschmar-Schuldorff  was played by a native Austrian (Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrück) who had also fled the Nazi regime to end up in Britain, where he made a career out of being “the German” character. Certainly it lends credibility to the film that the German actually speaks German.

Another very curious character is “the girl”. Throughout the three stages there is a girl involved in the lives of Clive and Theo. In 02 this is Edith Hunter, a very independent minded English girl who has escaped the constraints of life in England to become a teacher of English in Berlin. She is the girl Theo gets married to and Clive only too late realizes he is in love with. This is Kerr incarnation number one.

In 1918 the girl is a nurse picked out of the crowd by Clive because of her resemblance to Edith. This girl, Barbara, becomes his wife as a proxy for Edith. The resemblance is quite obvious as this is Kerr incarnation number two.

In 1942 Clive, an old, widowed general has hired Angela "Johnny" Cannon, a very strong minded girl, to be his driver out of 700 applicants, the reason of course being her resemblance to Edith since this is Kerr incarnation number 3.

Deborah Kerr is therefore more a symbol and a number of milestones in Clive’s life than an actual person. But that does not mean she is not remarkable. It is no coincidence that of the three leads she would go on to become the biggest star. If you do not agree I challenge you to see or revisit “From here to Eternity”. I personally find her outstanding.

The film as such is more impressive than actually good. This is the first color film in a long time for me, so suddenly seeing army trucks and motorcycles driving head over heels in full Technicolor feels like a jolt into modernity. This does not look old at all and 1943 suddenly feels like present day. It is really impressive what color does to the feel of a film and in this one it is very cleverly applied. I love it.

Secondly the scope is big. We basically get an overview of the first half of the 20th century, the big events but also the cultural changes, the look of people and places and of sentiments, from Victorian aloofness to 40’ies down and dirty can-do mentality. Waltzes to jazz. I love this aspect as well.

Thirdly this is a war time British film and naturally very pro-British, yet it portrays a sympathetic German, the most reviled creature in Allied propaganda, and has an entire sequence taking place in a Berlin café with everybody speaking most civilized if stereotypically stiff German. At the same time it makes fun of the lovable, but ridiculous blob of an old school English officer type. How dare they in the midst of a war? That took some balls to allow themselves to be this multidimensional in telling the story. It would have been so much easier to just tell a one eyed flag waving propaganda film about a war hero (Read: Sergeant York), but Powell and Pressburger manage to go that level deeper and give more flesh to the characters against all odds. I like that very much.

Yet, despite all this I frequently found myself asking what exactly the point of the movie is? An epic 2,5 hour movie ought to lead somewhere and this is where this film fizzles for me. It tells how General Candy got to be who he is and that he did not used to be this old fart and also that the future is now and it is time to make way for a new generation, but that all seem a bit thin.

This film has a lot of nice wrapping. It is beautiful and interesting with fascinating characters and is big in scope, but at the end of it I am not sure I got to a new place. But, alas, I spent a pleasant time with Clive, Theo and Deborah Kerr in all her incarnations. Good show, old chap!

Sunday 7 July 2013

Modern Times (1936)

Moderne Tider
I am a big admirer of Charlie Chaplin. Just so you are warned up front. Readers of my previous two Chaplin reviews will know that, I am sure. He is also my favorite of the three big comedians of silent cinema (the others being Keaton and Lloyd) and of a stature so iconic that the silhouette is a giveaway for anybody over the age of ten. Well, when I was ten for sure. One of the dedicated and very popular TV Channels for children (Ramasjang) in Denmark still puts on an occasional Chaplin short. There is no two ways about that, Chaplin is big.

“Modern Times” was his last film with his tramp character. 22 years of service finally ended in style. But how do you take a hero of the silent cinema into the age of the talkie, far far away from the realm he used to prowl? Well, tricky tricky. Chaplin solved this problem in a number of ways.

First of all he admitted that the tramp is a silent character. He exists in a silent world where actions are broken by intertitles, the camera runs a bit too slow (projecting becomes a bit too fast) and feelings are commuted through mimics and facial expressions. The advent of talking pictures cannot change that. That is who he is. However the stage on which he acts can change. Sound can be integrated as part of the stage. Chaplin began that process in “City Lights” with mumblings and sound effects and in “Modern Times” that instrument is refined into audible voices coming out of radios, intercoms and very futuristic wide screens. The actors are silent characters in a noisy world. Not quite unlike the technique used in “The Artist”. Somebody certainly saw “Modern Times”.

The second fix is to bring the tramp up to date. This is now the depression era, or post-depression era, with unemployment, poverty and inequality running rampant. But also an age with a revolution in automation making the worker another pin in the wheel or even obsolete. In any case reducing the working population to even deeper lows. It is in this environment the tramp maneuvers as a member of this destitute class in what was Chaplin’s strongest social commentary.

This is both the strength and the weakness of “Modern Times”. Humor has always been a strong instrument to convey serious or brutal messages. A good example is “Dr. Strangelove or how I learned to love the bomb”. In that way Chaplin is able to tell an important story that sinks in where a more direct and serious approach would just have been rejected by the viewer. It is clever, Chaplin did it again in “The Dictator” and it is a scandal that that one is not on the List!

But depression, social injustice and automation are not easy subjects, not even for Chaplin and the tramp and in the process some of the magic that elevated “City Lights” into a realm beyond simple comedy is lost. It is just not as endearing. Only near the end where the tramp and the gamine girl (the beautiful Paulette Goddard ) dream of getting a home and finally get a job as singing and dancing waiters does it display an approximation of the sensitivity that made “City Lights” so special. Especially because of the bittersweet end to that.

Not that this is not funny. It is. The feeding machine scene is probably the funniest Chaplin ever did and it is hilarious (and very symbolic) when he is being eaten by the big machines, essentially becoming a part of the machine. I have seen “Modern Times” many times by now and some of the jokes are starting to get a bit old on me, so I look for that extra dimension and in the middle part we lose both the sensitivity and to some extent the fun, so this part seems to drag out a bit. I am loath to admit it because I love Chaplin so much, but that part was actually a bit boring. Luckily the end is fantastic and we get it all. Fun, romance, sensitivity, speed and tons of physical comedy. That saves the movie and we end on a high note.

The end sequence also features the only words the tramp ever uttered on the white screen and true to form they do not make any sense at all. The tramp has to sing a song in the restaurant as part of his trial employment, but the lyrics, written down on his cuff, are lost in the hubbub so he invents his own song. It is a very suggestive song, naughty maybe and charming, but we only catch a French or Italian word now and then so the lyrics are a blur. If the tramp should ever speak this is certainly what it should sound like. Perfectly.

“City Lights” is still my favorite Chaplin film, but “Modern times” may be the more important one. Who else could pull this off than Charles Chaplin? The tramp made his point.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

I Walked with a Zombie
Forget about half-rotten zombies rising from their graves to prey on the living. Long before that trope was established a zombie was a Caribbean voodoo phenomenon, a brain dead person who could be animated, but was lost to this world. That does not sound half as scary and gory as a “modern” zombie, but presented by Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur in 1943 this is plenty mysterious to make an interesting film.

So far my only previous Lewton/Tourneur experience is “Cat People”. I liked that one for its cinematography above all else and “I Walked with a Zombie” follows right into those footsteps. Except that while it is hard to compete with the pool scene or the quiet, dark alley “I Walked with a Zombie” compensates with a mysterious and very dark family intrigue.

Our proxy is the nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee). She is the narrating outsider who in the function of a nurse is being stationed at the Holland plantation on the Caribbean island San Sebastian. The wife of the plantation owner is sick and she is hired to take care of her. Through Betsy’s unbiased eyes we get to know the dysfunctional Holland/Rand family and the more than a little superstitious black population on the island. Betsy is challenged professionally, morally and not least spiritually by this encounter. What is reality and what is imagination and can firm belief in the imaginative make it real?

While the zombie and voodoo issue certainly is compelling and loaded with suggestion it is actually just a backdrop to the real drama within the Holland/Rand family. It consists of four members: the two half-brothers Paul Holland (Tom Conway) with British manners, speech and upbringing and Wesley Rand (James Ellison) with ditto American. Their mother Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) and Paul’s unresponsive wife Jessica (Christine Gordon). From the opening we sense something is really odd here. Everybody is on edge and in the true spirit of noir nobody are what they appear to be. Just like the voodoo practice there is something beneath the surface, something ominous and powerful.

No wonder Betsy is caught off-balance and struggle to navigate in this environment.

Lewton and Tourneur (exactly who I should credit I am not sure) must be complemented for not taking a position on who is right and who is wrong. Maybe voodoo works and maybe it is just suggestive power. Maybe Paul is the hero, maybe the villain. The director is not a judge but simply the conveyor of Betsy’s narration. This is the same method as was used in “Cat People” (except for the narration) and it is very effective. It would have been easy to take sides. Let us know that this entire voodoo practice is bollocks or bring proof that it is very real. Instead it performs a balancing act between dream and reality and becomes an analogy to the world of the Holland/Rand family. Jessica is not just a zombie, she is also a mental ghost haunting the family.

I mentioned the cinematography and although the story is compelling it is the cinematography which is the real star. Those night scenes are great. Walking through the cane fields in the moon light and suddenly there is a tall, almost naked man with the most insanely staring, yet empty eyes popping out of the dark. Not moving, just staring. Or the voodoo ceremonies with drums and chanting and trancelike dancing. It is dark and ominous, but not really evil. Just very different. A portal into a different reality, like a dream is. Jessica as well. She is not frightening per se, she is not actually doing anything, but sleepwalking, but her empty expression is suggestive off immense loss simply by the lack of any response. She is truly lost and that is conveyed very well.

Also I have to mention the nice tough with the reference to San Sebastian. That is not just the name of the island, but also a statue on the Holland plantation. Saint Sebastian was a saint who felt no pain but was slain with multiple arrows, like a voodoo doll or the torment of the Holland/Rand family. They could have chosen no better symbol.

I liked “I Walked with a Zombie” more than I hoped I would. This may not be the biggest production ever or the deepest analysis or even the scariest horror film, but it is a beautiful representative of old school noir horror and I certainly felt the darkness creep in on me. More from the masterly wrought cinematography than the story itself.