Newspaper review, 1943.
Prod of Weird Thriller
Walked With A Zombie"
Director Jacques Tourneur
Photography J. Roy Hunt
Edited by Mark Robson
players: James Ellison, Francis Dee, Tom Conway,
Edith Barrett, James Bell, Christine Gordon, Teresa
Harris, SIr Lancelot, Darby Jones, Jeni LeGon.
scored a smashing success at the box office with "Cat
People," producer Val
turns his attention to the ever-intriguing subject
of Zombies for a second production in the chiller-diller
cycle he has launched at RKO. As in the previous thriller,
psychological overtones are simulated to give the
proceedings an air of strange, yet not impossible
doings, and again Lewton receives valued aid from
the suspenseful direction by Jacques
collaboration on "I Walked With a Zombie"
stands an excellent chance of breaking the records
that "Cat People" broke. In many respects
it is a smoother entertainment.
story is told in retrospect when a nurse recalls her
experiences on the island of San Sebastian in the
West Indies. She has been engaged to attend the wife
of a sugar planter, a woman who has no will of her
own, never speaks and has seemingly lost her mind
after a fever from which she nearly died. The nurse
quickly senses the animosity that exists between the
husband and his younger half-brother, a chap addicted
to the bottle, but not until she hears the song of
a Calypso singer does she discover that the brothers
have quarreled over the love of the afflicted woman.
the nurse recognizes that she is falling in love with
the husband. She promptly bends every effort to restore
his wife to him. Medicine failing, she even resorts
to voodoo as a last chance. But she is sent away from
the weird native temple and learns from the boy's
mother that her patient is a Zombie. She has walked
with the living dead.
gives a charming performance as the nurse, and Tom
a strong portrayal of the husband. James
is to be commended for what he does with the half-brother,
a role that many would have over-played objectionably
splendid as the mother, and Christine
appeal to the afflicted wife. Teresa
pertly plays a native servant, and Sir
briefly as the Calypso singer.
high order in Lewton's production are the photography
the art direction by Albert
the music by Roy
and the editing by Mark
in Them Chills
From Colliers Magazine, January 29, 1944.
a new kind of horror picture nowadays-snappy little
spook shows full of beautiful girls and sharp dialogue,
good food and French lullabies. They hide under fireside-chat
titles] like Cat People, I walked with a Zombie, Leopard
Man, Seventh Victim, Ghost Ship, and Curse of the
Cat People; they're emancipating the tired spook-show
formula by chucking the monsters and going in for
class; and while they cost a niggardly (for Hollywood)
$80,000 to make they gross over a million a piece.
We're packing the theaters to hair-raising capacity
to see this new-type phenomenon that scares the living
daylights out of us- quietly, gently, psychologically!
show us pretty girls changing into man-killing cats,
registered nurses who believe in zombies, and gorgeous
lady executives joining screwball societies dedicated
to satanic pursuits. At least we think they do - which
is how these high-class horrors operate. They provide
the overturned chair, the muffled footstep, the creaking
door, the wild eye--then let our imaginations take
over to do the real work.
psychological terror boys sneer at test-tube bloodsuckers,
scrambled innards and two-headed men. They use the
Old theory of mind over matter, remember that an ounce
of imagination is worth a ton of bleeding, biting
and scratching. The psychological horror show comes
to life to make the rest of the industry admit that
maybe there is something to this business of being
subtle, after all
first of these brand-new scare pieces is about a beautiful
lady dress designer who picks up a guy in the park,
invites him to her apartment for tea, falls in love
with him and marries him. Grisly? Not yet. It really
gets grim on their wedding night when she tells hubby
not to be mad if she doesn't let him kiss her. If
he does, she's sure to turn into a cat and kill him.
a Chance on Love
he turns her over to a psychiatrist with an appreciative
eye, who's willing to take a chance on being clawed
to death, Comes the big love scene -- then a strange
little tinkle of music on dark film, a few discords
--the psychiatrist is lying on the floor, good and
dad for his trouble, and the lady, who is now a cat,
is making for the leopard cage at the zoo to commune
with her relatives. Gay?
latest, Curse of the Cat People, carries on where
the starter in this collection of creeps left off
and promises to become another family affair, in chapters,
like the Hardy business.
any other kind of treatment, these scripts would only
be funny. In their present form, however, they're
actually masterpieces of suspense and horror, because
we're only allowed to see half of what we think we're
is the man responsible -- for horror pictures with
no horror to speak of. He's a nice fat fellow with
kind eyes, a gentle voice and a profitable feeling
that audiences in wartime are essentially dotty, anyway.
He also says we all have war jitters, "but you
come to my movies, have a fine time killing people
for me, then go home, worn out, tired and relaxed."
started in a small office at RKO last year when Charles
Koerner, the boss, cast about for a hypo to
liven up the studio's dying product. He remember a
title he'd kicked around for years -- The Cat People
-- and presented it by memo to Val Lewton, a new producer on the lot. "Naturally,
I was appalled," Lewton admits.
called in DeWitt Bodeen,
a writer, and Jacques Tourneur,
a director, and the three of them worked out the story
of Irina Barovna, descended from the Mamelukes of
Egypt, which, they chuckled, would mean cat blood
in her veins. They cast Simone
Simon as Irina, peopled the rest of the film
with good-looking Americans who spoke snappy language,
and found a hollow-cheeked sylph named Elizabeth
Russell to be Simone's sister cat.
continued by throwing in the three fundamental fears:
darkness, sudden sound and wild animals. They pampered
a tame leopard they'd hired from the Los Angeles zoo
by spilling perfume on his raw meat to provoke growling
at the proper time .
8 was the noisiest set on the log, but ten weeks later
Mr. Koerner had his Cat People, Mr. Lewton had a sizable
hike in pay, and the RKO investors were running their
fingers through the cash and murmuring "Gold!"
second brain-gnashing resulted in I walked with a
Zombie, and another gold rush to the box office --
not only in theaters specializing in "triple
Horror Show Tonight" but in neighborhood houses
where the whole family gathers. So the Lewton unit
has been booming since the, turning out more like
himself, was born in Russia lived there the first
seven years of his life, then changed his address
to West 10th Street, New York City. At seventeen he
was writing poetry. at eighteen he sold his first
short story, at 22 he was writing four novels a year
and came out with a book on Russian Cossacks.
David Selznick, fingering
Gogol's Taras Bulba with an eye to its filmability,
sent out a call for writer's who knew Russia. Up came
Lewton, the least expensive pf the two or three writers
heard from, and forthwith drew a free ticket to Hollywood,
with a one-day stopover in Chicago to see the World's
never made Taras Bulba, but Lewton stayed on in his
keep for nine years -- until RKO beckoned with a producer's
lives in a house at the beach with a wife, two children,
two donkeys, a dozen chickens, five dogs, eight or
nine rabbits, a slew of canaries and other miscellaneous
livestock. Recently the neighbors gave Lewton twenty
-four hours to dispose of his animal kingdom.
I'll have to kill the chickens," he wept. "I
can't do it, I can't do it!"
wring their ugly little necks myself," volunteered
the lady who lived next door. And as she readied herself
to invade the barnyard, she stood on tiptoe, pulled
bogeyman Lewton's ear down to her size and came through
with a bloodcurdling, "Boo!"
is B-Film Virtuoso
Life Magazine, 1945.
producer of Bedlam, is recognized today as Hollywood's
top producer of B movies. He has made his reputation
with a series of low-cost thrillers (The Cat People,
I Walked with a Zombie, Isle of the Dead) which were
well received by movie critics and, more important,
made money. Hollywood generally tries to make its
A pictures (films budgeted at more than $800,000)
pleasing to the more discriminating critics and moviegoers.
But Bs (budgeted under $500,000) exist solely for
revenue purposes and any artistic merit they may have
comes under the heading of a pleasant surprise. Being
both profitable and meritorious, Lewton's are ideal
Lewton's stock in trade is the low-cost thriller and
the best new twist he has developed is the ability
to impart terror to an audience by means of suggestion.
He usually has people murdered off-stage so each spectator
is free to conjure up as much physical suffering as
he can stand. In addition, Lewton is fond of teasing
the audience by imperiling his heroine and then rescuing
her some outside intervention, such as the arrival
of a streetcar. he will break the mood of a tense
scene with false alarms, such as having a horse whinny
at murderous moment in a gloomy barn, thus giving
the audience a chance to laugh nervously at itself.
lewton scorns such patently horrifying characters
as werewolves and monsters. He believes the fans get
a bigger scare out of satisfactorily vicious human
first name is a contraction of Vladimir, which he
was christened when born in yalta in 1904. At the
age of 7 he moved from Russia to port Chaster, N.Y.,
ultimately entered Columbia University and then drifted
into newspaper writing. In 1934 Producer David
Selznick hired him to write a movie about Russia
because he asked less salary than any other available
writer who knew anything about the U.S.S.R. The picture
never came off but Lewton worked for Selznick nine
years until RKO hired him as a producer in 1942.
present, Lewton's weekly income is a modest $700,
on which he supports a wife, two children, two Buicks,
a dog, some chickens and such minor pleasures as woodworking
and book buying. Lewton is a great reader and his
house is filled with books. he can get through an
average novel in 45 minutes and lifts many ideas from
old plots, which he likes better than new ones. He
assists in the writing of all his productions and
will sum up the latest epic by saying, "It's
Jane Eyre in a tropical setting." Lewton's bosses
like his work. They are planning to give him, as soon
as possible, an A picture, high-priced stars, brand-new
sets and as much as a million dollars to play around