Tag Archives: Val Lewton

Bedlam (1946, Mark Robson)

Bedlam is about a third of a good picture. It’s like writers Val Lewton and (director too) Robson didn’t quite know how to make it work, what with having to have Boris Karloff in it. Karloff’s the villain, the head of a mental institute in the eighteenth century. Karloff’s so evil–and surrounded by so many bad people (the aristocracy has inmates perform for them)–the film’s always unpleasant.

But Karloff’s not the lead; the lead’s pretty Anna Lee and she learns being rich and comfortable is nothing compared to caring for one’s fellow man. She’s even got a Quaker love interest (Richard Fraser) who helps her find the right path.

Maybe half the film is Lee figuring out she should do something to help the people in the institution. Then the second half is after Karloff institutionalizes her.

During that second half, the film shines. Lee discovers she is capable of actively helping her fellow man instead of just advocating for his or her help. She’s got a great narrative arc, but Lewton and Robson have no idea how to write it. They give her awful patron–Billy House in a weak performance–way too much screen time.

As for Robson’s direction, he’s disappointing. Most of the film either takes place in House’s house (sorry) or the institution. The budget doesn’t exactly show, not until one realizes how unimaginative it gets.

Maybe if Lee were better. She’s okay, nothing more. And Karloff’s a caricature.

Bedlam is an unpleasant disappointment.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Val Lewton and Robson, suggested by a painting by William Hogarth; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Lyle Boyer; music by Roy Webb; produced by Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Anna Lee (Nell Bowen), Richard Fraser (Hannay), Boris Karloff (Master George Sims), Billy House (Lord Mortimer), Ian Wolfe (Sidney Long), Jason Robards Sr. (Oliver Todd), Leyland Hodgson (Wilkes), Joan Newton (Dorothea the Dove), Robert Clarke (Dan the Dog), Elizabeth Russell (Mistress Sims), Vic Holbrook (Tom the Tiger) and Skelton Knaggs (Varney).


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The Curse of the Cat People (1944, Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

The Curse of the Cat People is apparently Kent Smith. Well, him and writer DeWitt Bodeen. Smith and Jane Randolph return from the first film, this one set over six years later. They have a daughter–Ann Carter in an almost perfect performance–who’s a lonely child. She eventually imagines herself a friend, personified by Simone Simon (also returning from the first film), who’s apparently the ghost of Smith’s first wife.

Only she’s not, because she’s an imaginary friend. Bodeen’s very literal.

The film’s title is intentionally misleading; at its best moments, Curse is about Carter being this kid who doesn’t have any friends and has all these strange experiences. She meets this crazy, but sweet, old woman (Julia Dean) and bonds with her. Dean is unintentionally juxtaposed with Smith.

They’re both crappy parents. Randolph’s not a good mom either, but she at least loves Carter. Bodeen writes the most insensitive and cruel dialogue for Smith he can. It’s Curse’s primary failing–Bodeen can’t write Smith’s character as anything but a jerk.

For the first half, before Carter reveals Simon’s “identity,” Curse gets away with it. Roy Webb’s music is beautiful, Nicholas Musuraca’s photography is enchanting–the two directors, von Fritsch and Wise, usually do rather well (except one moment Carter’s looking off screen for direction).

The conclusion, however, has Carter running away. Smith in panic mode is some awful acting, but Bodeen’s script forgets Randolph’s the girl’s mother.

Curse’s a big disappointment. As a sequel concept, it’s groundbreaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise; written by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ann Carter (Amy Reed), Kent Smith (Ollie Reed), Jane Randolph (Alice Reed), Sir Lancelot (Edward), Eve March (Miss Callahan), Julia Dean (Mrs. Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (Barbara Farren) and Simone Simon (Amy’s friend).


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The Body Snatcher (1945, Robert Wise)

The Body Snatcher has half an excellent foundation. Nineteenth century medical genius Henry Daniell can’t escape his past associations with a shady cabman (Boris Karloff). These past associations being of the grave robbing variety. There’s also Daniell’s romance with his maid (Edith Atwater), which humanizes the character throughout the first half, since Daniell’s supposed to be a scary smart doctor guy.

Sadly, the film primarily focuses on Russell Wade as one of Daniell’s students. Wade is occasionally all right–and always earnest–but he’s simply not very good. Some of the problems come from Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton’s script. It’s too obvious and expository. And the story of a little girl who can’t walk (Sharyn Moffett) and her fetching mother (Rita Corday) would be annoying even if Moffett wasn’t awful. Of course Wade is taken with Corday, but the script doesn’t give them enough time. Though more time would have just made for worse scenes.

The best scenes are those with Karloff or Daniell–the ones with them together are absolutely amazing. Without Wade, and even with him to some degree, the men are alter egos, which gives Snatcher a whole lot of depth it otherwise would’ve have.

As for Wise’s direction, he often does very well. Robert De Grasse’s photography is great and the pair come up with some great ways to establish the Edinburgh setting while still shooting economically on a lot. Sometimes, however, Wise is far more overt than need be.

Snatcher should be much better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Roy Webb; produced by Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Russell Wade (Donald Fettes), Henry Daniell (Dr. MacFarlane), Boris Karloff (Cabman John Gray), Rita Corday (Mrs. Marsh), Edith Atwater (Meg Cameron), Sharyn Moffett (Georgina Marsh), Donna Lee (Street Singer) and Bela Lugosi (Joseph).


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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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