Monday, 27 December 2010
Old movie madness - The Seventh Victim (1943) - spoilers!
Another horror/noir, and another from the "Cat People" stable at RKO Radio Pictures. This film even features a character from "Cat People" - Doctor Louis Judd - and some people consider this a prequel though sadly no cat people feature.
The film centres around Mary, a schoolgirl who is told by her headmistress (a formidable woman in a wonderful gathered dress) that her sister has not paid her school fees for the past six months and that she has been unable to contact her. She generously lends Mary the money to travel to the city to hunt down her sister.
Mary starts looking at her sister Jacqueline's beauty salon but finds out her sister sold it to her stern Mrs Reed some 8 months ago. At the salon Mary runs into one of Jacqueline's friends who says she saw her just the few weeks before at Dante's, an Italian restaurant, and so Mary heads straight there.
The owners recall an extraordinarily beautiful woman who did indeed come in some time ago, rented a room, changed the locks and left. Convinced this must her sister she persuades to owners to break into the room (she is very persuasive this gal - everyone does everything she says) and once the door is opened all there is in the room is a noose hanging from the rafters with a chair underneath.
Mary reports her sister missing and while doing so is approached by a cliched noir Private Detective who offers to take her case for free (again, she gets whatever she wants). Unfortunately in the course of their investigation the detective is killed.
Dr Judd appears, telling Mary that her sister is in his care and in hiding from a Satanic cult called the Palladists who she fears wish to kill her, she then discovers Jacqueline is married and estranged from her husband who has also been looking for her. Mary and Jacqueline's husband team up and secretly fall in love.
Jacqueline does not go back to her husband and is soon kidnapped by the cult who try to persuade her to kill herself as anyone who talks about the cult must die. She refuses to drink the poisoned wine and become the cults seventh victim and they reluctantly let her go. She is followed by an assassin however and narrowly escapes.
On the stairs outside her building she meets the deathly ill and strangely compelling Mimi (Elizabeth Russell), who tells her that despite being close to death and scared she is determined to enjoy her last days. Jacqueline responds that she is not scared of death and walks into the room with the noose.
The film closes with Mimi, glamorously dressed, descending the stairs and the sound of the chair in the room being kicked over.
The high points for me were the hair styling, there are some wonderful early 40's hair dos in this movie and some awe inspiring huge victory rolls. The only bad hair is on the head of the mysterious Jacqueline, a character with absolutely no depth and a very poor Bettie Page wig.
I also adored the shower scene, this pre-Psycho image was very powerful and I really like the way the brim of the hat echoes devil horns.
I also adored seeing Elizabeth Russell again, she appeared as the mysterious Serbian cat lady in "Cat People" and was dressed identically in this movie - budget constraint or link between the films? Sigh - Elizabeth Russell has such powerful features I could just watch her for hours.
The low points (aside from the laughable Bettie Page wig) were all around how disjointed the story was - it just didn't make any sense. If Jacqueline were alive then why didn't she keep paying her sisters school fees, why didn't she just leave town, why did an assassin follow her - was he linked to the cult who had let her go just seconds before, why had she never told her sister she had married? I also felt a little creeped out by the sexualisation of Mary, who was first portrayed as a child (albeit 16/17) and then had two much older men interested in her.
It clearly is a low budget affair, but it is rather fun to pass the time with as it doesn't need much in the way of concentration. It is very silly but it is also definitely worth watching if you can just suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride.