Tag Archives: Tom Conway

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).


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The Seventh Victim (1943, Mark Robson)

Quite surprisingly, The Seventh Victim–in addition to being a disquieting, subtle thriller–is mostly about urban apathy and discontent. Though there aren’t any establishing shots of New York City (or of the small New England town protagonist Kim Hunter comes from), Robson and writers Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen are quite clear about it. There’s no a single happy character–or moment–in the picture.

It should be depressing, but the suspense in the main story–Hunter is trying to find her sister, Jean Brooks, who has disappeared–distracts. And I suppose if one wasn’t so engrossed with that plot, he or she could still keep up hope for some kind of nicety. Even O’Neal and Bodeen have a scene with a comment on positivity… the characters are clearly defeated, even if they are earnest.

Victim‘s narrative structure is also strange. The third act switches protagonists (though Hunter had been slowly giving way to admirer Erford Gage) and the filmmakers decide to go out on a high point instead of a narratively satisfying one. It just adds to the disquiet.

Robson’s direction is outstanding. He isn’t just able to handle the budget, he’s also able to capture all this muted sorrow in his actors. I don’t think Hunter has one intense moment–no screaming, no crying–but she’s constantly full of emotion. Gage, playing a pretentious poet, is fantastic. Hugh Beaumont is sturdy support and Tom Conway does a great job in a difficult role.

It’s an exceptional film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; written by Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by John Lockert; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Kim Hunter (Mary Gibson), Hugh Beaumont (Gregory Ward), Erford Gage (Jason Hoag), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jean Brooks (Jacqueline Gibson), Mary Newton (Esther Redi), Lou Lubin (Irving August), Marguerita Sylva (Mrs. Bella Romari) and Ben Bard (Mr. Brun).


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Cat People (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

How to describe Cat People….

When a swell, blond American (Kent Smith) meets a dark (but not too dark) Eastern European woman (Simone Simon), she rouses all sorts of non-apple pie passions in him. Being a swell guy, he pressures her into marrying him–she’s clearly emotionally disturbed, but it’s okay… Smith hires her a great psychiatrist (Tom Conway) who eventually tries to rape her.

I’m not making up the passions part by the way–the scene where Smith tries explaining it all to other woman Jane Randolph is painful. Smith’s terrible.

That above synopsis pretty much gets at Cat People‘s core story. Beware the foreigner. Randolph’s a much better match for Smith anyway. She’s a hard worker, not some kind of artist.

Sadly, the film’s got a lot of great things about it. DeWitt Bodeen’s mildly xenophobic screenplay still has some amazing scenes in it… though most of them come at the beginning when Simon’s still the protagonist. There’s later an odd shift of focus to Smith and Randolph. Actually, mostly Randolph so she can be the damsel in distress.

Tourneur’s direction is startling, particularly in those high suspense scenes; it’s excellent work. Some of Cat People‘s shots are singular. Simon’s great, Conway’s great (it’s interesting to see him ooze the charm in equal parts with the slime), Randolph’s pretty good (just wholly unlikable).

Fantastic Nicholas Musuraca photography and Mark Robson editing round out Cat People.

Given its many–occasionally extraordinary–successes, it’s a shame Bodeen’s plot flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Alan Napier (Doc Carver), Alec Craig (Zookeeper) and Jack Holt (The Commodore).


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Criminal Court (1946, Robert Wise)

If you took a film noir and removed the noir, you might have something like Criminal Court. The plot is noir. An upstanding attorney (Tom Conway) accidentally kills mobster (Robert Armstrong) and runs off, unknowingly leaving his girlfriend (Martha O’Driscoll) to take the wrap.

What does Conway do? Does he try to falsify evidence to save his girlfriend? Does he sacrifice? Nope. He confesses and when no one believes him, he sort of just sits passively through the rest of the movie and hopes something will make it all better.

There’s no angst, no guilt. Conway even tells the district attorney he didn’t report the incident because Armstrong brought it on himself. It is, apparently, an attempt to mix noir with righteousness. And, wow, does it fail.

What makes Court so awkward is what it does with the space left empty by the lack of internal conflict. It does nothing. The movie only runs an hour. It doesn’t try comedy, it doesn’t try introducing a subplot (there aren’t any in the film), it doesn’t try anything at all.

Until Armstrong dies, Criminal Court has a lot of potential. Armstrong’s just great here. Conway’s fine, but unable to overcome the script. O’Driscoll’s writing is worse, but her performance is still weak.

The supporting cast is excellent, Steve Brodie and Joe Devlin in particular.

Wise’s direction has occasional flourishes–a dolly shot here and there–but it’s fairly static and unimaginative overall, as though he couldn’t feign interest either.

Cute finale though.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Lawrence Kimble, based on a story by Earl Felton; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Robert Swink; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Martin Mooney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Tom Conway (Steve Barnes), Martha O’Driscoll (Georgia Gale), June Clayworth (Joan Mason), Robert Armstrong (Vic Wright), Addison Richards (District Attorney Gordon), Pat Gleason (Joe West), Steve Brodie (Frankie Wright), Robert Warwick (Mr. Marquette), Phil Warren (Bill Brannegan) and Joe Devlin (Brownie).


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