Tag Archives: Jacques Tourneur

I Walked with a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Before it stumbles through its third act, I Walked with a Zombie’s biggest problem is the pacing. It’s exceedingly boring during the second act. Its second biggest problem is it’s too short. The second act plays so poorly because there’s not enough going on, there’s just not time for it in sixty-eight minutes.

Otherwise, the film’s wondrous. Tourneur’s direction is sublime, beautiful music from Roy Webb, luscious black and white photography from J. Roy Hunt and these amazing sets. The film takes place on a small Caribbean island, with a nurse (Frances Dee) caring for a strangely ill woman. The nurse discovers she’s the fourth wheel on a love triangle between the woman and two brothers (Tom Conway and James Ellison).

The great performances from Conway and Ellison can’t make up for them disappearing occasionally for relatively long stretches. Dee’s fine in the lead–a more dynamic performance might have helped with the second act but nothing can fix the ending. Nice performances from James Bell, Edith Barrett and Theresa Harris too.

Some of the problem is the script, obviously. Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray accelerate the romance between Dee and Conway and don’t actually give them a courtship. Instead, Ellison gets those scenes. And it’s never clear if Harris is a villain or not. Not to mention there being a mystery angle introduced late in the second act. It’s all a mess.

It’s a beautiful one, but Zombie’s often magnificent pieces don’t add up to a successful picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, based on a story by Inez Wallace; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand), James Bell (Dr. Maxwell), Christine Gordon (Jessica Holland), Theresa Harris (Alma), Sir Lancelot (Calypso Singer) and Darby Jones (Carrefour).


RELATED

Advertisements

What Do You Think? (1937, Jacques Tourneur)

Well, What Do You Think? is one bland short film.

There are some definite strengths to it. Tourneur’s direction of the actors is outstanding, especially at the beginning at a Hollywood party, when he’s cutting between various actors. All of Think is told in narration (from Carey Wilson) and so Tourneur has got to make the actors convey without dialogue or music.

And he succeeds.

He even succeeds when Think hits the main plot, involving William Henry’s Hollywood screenwriter going through a near death experience. Tourneur does a fine job with Henry’s investigation of his strange experience, but there’s nothing to do be done about the silliness of the plot after the investigation concludes.

The ending is far too literal for the short, which never sets itself up to be a grand revelation into the paranormal. Or even a minor one.

It’s too bad, as Tourneur’s work is definitely impressive.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Henry (John Dough); narrated by Carey Wilson.


RELATED

Killer-Dog (1936, Jacques Tourneur)

Killer-Dog is the story of a dog on trial. Really. It’s a courtroom short concerning a farm dog accused of being a sheep killer. Tourneur and producer Pete Smith take a while to get to that detail though, just referring letting the sensational title do the work of riling the viewer’s imagination.

It’s a rather effective short, which Tourneur manages to tell without a lot of sentiment. Even though he’s constantly showing the dog’s owner, young Babs Nelson, sympathetically, the case against the dog is strong. In order to get the narrative to work, in order to keep it suspenseful anyway, Tourneur and Smith have to actively deceive the viewer.

The finale is so well-executed, however, it’s impossible to hold that deception against Killer-Dog. Smith’s narration, occasionally grating, can’t even compare with the excellent direction and performances. Nelson’s great, Ralph Byrd’s great.

It’s a fine little film.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Pete Smith; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ralph Byrd (Father), Betty Ross Clarke (Mother) and Babs Nelson (Betty Lou); narrated by Pete Smith.


RELATED

The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

The Leopard Man has such beauteous production values–one would never think it was a low budget picture, not with Robert De Grasse’s lush blacks and he and director Tourneur’s tracking shots–it’s a shame the acting fails the film.

A lot of the problem the script. Co-screenwriters Ardel Wray and Edward Dein try hard to show Hispanic culture in a New Mexico town, both in the dialogue and the tone. Sadly, they fail miserably. The script seems to be showing the townspeople as solemnly dignified, but it comes off as callow and ignorant.

Tourneur follows prospective victims around to ratchet up the fear factor, which is a fine approach, but the actors are just terrible. Second-billed Margo gives such an awful performance–not to mention her character being a lousy human being in general–every time the titular monster takes a victim, it’s sad it’s not her. Her fellow ingenues, Margaret Landry and Tuulikki Paananen, are both awful too.

In the ostensible female lead, Jean Brooks is good but she has almost nothing to do. She and leading man Dennis O’Keefe are literally visitors in The Leopard Man; the film downgrades their presence to a subplot.

Good supporting work from James Bell and Abner Biberman helps. Ben Bard is iffy as the cop.

Great music from Roy Webb, excellent cutting from Mark Robson. Tourneur’s composition is outstanding no matter the scene. The Leopard Man is a technical delight to behold… it’s a shame about the middling stuff.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning), Jean Brooks (Kiki Walker), James Bell (Dr. Galbraith), Ben Bard (Chief Roblos), Abner Biberman (Charlie How-Come), Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado), Tuulikki Paananen (Consuelo Contreras), Isabel Jewell (Maria the Fortune Teller) and Margo (Clo-Clo).


RELATED