Tag Archives: Val Lewton

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).


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Isle of the Dead (1945, Mark Robson)

The Greek anti-defamation league, if it existed, mustn’t have had much power when Isle of the Dead came out. It’s a quarantine drama, a genre I’m unfamiliar with but certainly has a lot of potential, set on a small Greek island. There’s nothing on the island besides an amateur Swiss archeologist (Jason Robards Sr.) and a graveyard. Boris Karloff plays a Greek general (the film’s set during the First Balkan War) who heads over to visit his wife’s tomb, dragging along American war correspondent Marc Cramer.

Karloff and Cramer find some mild mystery before ending up in Robards’s home, where he’s entertaining multiple guests–temporary refuges from Karloff’s latest battle.

The plague makes an appearance, forcing everyone to stay on the small island. Karloff and fellow Greek Helene Thimig start thinking its an evil spirit and plot murder.

While Thimig is over the top, Karloff’s descent into madness is wonderful. Even when he ignores fact, his conviction remains reasonable. It’s a quiet, unassuming performance from him–costar Cramer appears to be taller even; he transfixes.

Director Robson handles the cast and their subplots well, with Ardel Wray’s script weaving the subplots across each other, fueling the main thrust of the picture. It’s a brilliant, unpredictable script.

Besides Karloff, the best performances are from Ellen Drew (as a Greek peasant who suffered at the military’s hand) and Katherine Emery (as her ill friend). The only other iffy performance is Ernst Deutsch.

Isle resists most formula (there’s romance); it’s rather good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; written by Ardel Wray; director of photography, Jack MacKenzie; edited by Lyle Boyer; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Ellen Drew (Thea), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards Sr. (Albrecht), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos) and Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra).


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The Ghost Ship (1943, Mark Robson)

Although the title suggests otherwise, The Ghost Ship is not a supernatural thriller. It is, however, a very effective suspense picture.

Russell Wade (in a sturdy lead performance) is a new officer. On his first ship out, he begins to suspect the captain–Richard Dix, who steadily gets creepier–is a little off his rocker. Of course, almost everything about the ship is somewhat strange, leaving Wade in a bit of a pickle.

The film moves along at a brisk pace–director Robson keeps the scenes short, which makes it feel more substantial than its seventy minutes. Only towards the end does Robson compress too much, likely due to the low budget.

Ghost Ship gets better as it moves along, mostly because the first third is so narratively disjointed. Wade’s undoubtedly the protagonist, but a mute sailor (Skelton Knaggs) narrates the events. The eerie narration is for tone, but Ghost Ship doesn’t need it. The dark ship–Nicholas Musuraca lights the picture beautifully–is never safe, even during the day scenes.

Donald Henderson Clarke’s screenplay recovers in the second act (only to falter for the finish). But Ghost Ship is always unnerving, thanks to Robson’s sure direction and the acting.

There are some strong supporting turns from Dewey Robinson, Edmund Glover and Edith Barrett. Some of the crew members are a little weak, but they’re passable.

John Lockert’s editing is poor. Nice score from Roy Webb.

Ghost Ship has its problems–particularly that finish–but it’s an good, uncanny trip.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Donald Henderson Clarke, based on a story by Leo Mittler; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by John Lockert; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Russell Wade (3rd Officer Tom Merriam), Richard Dix (Capt. Will Stone), Edmund Glover (Sparks, the Radioman), Dewey Robinson (Boats), Ben Bard (First Officer Bowns), Skelton Knaggs (Finn, the Mute) and Edith Barrett (Ellen Roberts).


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Mademoiselle Fifi (1944, Robert Wise)

Mademoiselle Fifi is split down the center, roughly, into two parts. The first involves Simone Simon on the trip to her hometown. The second is when she reaches the town. The film takes place in occupied France during the Franco-Prussian War, but it opens with a title card presenting it as an analogue to World War II.

The first half, with Simon’s laundress winning over her fellow travelers, a bunch of stuck-up upper crust who don’t understand why she doesn’t associate with the occupying Prussians. Fifi tries hard to be about recognizing the evils of passive collaboration. It’s more successful when it’s just about Simon and her experiences. It plays very naturally at those times.

Unfortunately, the finale is entirely artificial and contrived, so Fifi falls apart quite a bit. The short runtime is partially responsible. With a few more minutes, the film could introduce real characters into the second half instead of filler. The first half has extremely memorable ones, particularly Jason Robards Sr. as an obnoxious wine wholesaler and Kurt Kreuger as the titular villain. Even the less compelling characters are distinct. Not so at the end, when Fifi mostly introduces Prussian officer caricatures and vapid collaborators.

Simon’s excellent in the lead, as is John Emery as the armchair intellectual she inspires.

Technically, the film’s mediocre. Harry J. Wild’s photography is nice. J.R. Whittredge has some good transitions but, otherwise, his editing is weak. Wise’s direction is indistinct.

Fifi‘s impressive parts make the whole acceptable.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Werner R. Heymann; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Elizabeth Bousset, A Little Laundress), John Emery (Jean Cornudet), Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick, Called ‘Fifi’), Alan Napier (The Count de Breville), Helen Freeman (The Countess de Breville), Jason Robards Sr. (A Wholesaler in Wines), Norma Varden (The Wholesaler’s Wife), Romaine Callender (A Manufacturer), Fay Helm (The Manufacturer’s Wife), Edmund Glover (A Young Priest) and Charles Waldron (The Curé of Cleresville).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE VAL LEWTON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEPHEN OF CLASSIC MOVIE MAN


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