Sir Lancelot

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).


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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