*. An epigraph from . . . “Jonne Donne”? When was his name ever spelled “Jonne”? Is it meant as a joke? We know Lewton wasn’t above goofing around with these literary quotes.
*. The return of psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd. Another joke? An in-joke? Tim Conway played the same character in Cat People, and was killed at the end of that movie. But I have trouble seeing this as a prequel.
*. If you were watching this movie in 1943 and seeing Kim Hunter on the big screen for the first time, what would make you think she had any kind of a future ahead of her as an actress? She’s terrible here, wooden and awkward and without any kind of presence. Admittedly, the crazy story doesn’t help, and some of her lines are deadly.
*. Why do I say it’s a crazy story? It seems to me to be Lewton’s most Hitchcockian film in the sense of having a few key sequences tossed off by way of a ridiculous plot without any regard to plausibility. Example: Everyone loves the subway scene, but think about it: why the hell would you transport a dead body by subway to get rid of it? Do none of the Palladists have a car? Even the wealthy Mrs. Redi? Here are a few other examples.
*. First off: Why does Mary take Mrs. Redi’s word for it that Jacqueline killed Irving August? There’s no evidence for this whatsoever. In fact, it seems highly unlikely. Was Jacqueline being kept in the locked room? When did she become so violent? Nothing adds up, but everyone just accepts that she’s a murderess. Which, apparently, she is.
*. Second: So Gregory Ward is married to Jacqueline but immediately falls in love with her much younger sister: a girl who is still in boarding school and who everyone treats like a child. Huh? Even though he’s married (which is news to Mary), he seems totally uninterested in Jacqueline even when they’re together. Even strangers is the fact that Mary finds it quite acceptable that he feels the way he does.
*. Third: I find the scene where the coven of Palladists are trying to get Jacqueline to drink her hemlock to be creepy, giving off a bit of the same vibe as the end of White Zombie. But its effectiveness is undercut by the sheer silliness of the proceedings. In the first place, they don’t want to actually kill her, so they just sit around waiting for her to kill herself. Which is silly enough. Then, when she doesn’t take the poisoned chalice, they send a hitman into the streets after her. I guess they didn’t want to waste another whole afternoon watching her stare at a glass.
*. Then, after escaping from the hitman, Jacqueline decides to kill herself anyway! Which is hilarious, when you think of it.
*. Fourth: It’s very handy that in all this time no one has taken the noose down from Jacqueline’s apartment, isn’t it?
*. Enough of that. It’s a ridiculous movie. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments, like the subway scene, the shower scene, and a couple of Lewton’s patented “scary walks.” And there are also some interesting themes being developed.
*. The most interesting of these is the feminist angle. Mary Gibson is a young lady forced to quickly come of age in the Big City. She resents being called a child, or “little Miss Gibson,” and tells Gregory “I don’t like to be ordered to do anything.” And it’s interesting how so much of the film revolves around female-dominated worlds: the Palladists are mostly women, the boarding school is all female, the perfume company has had two consecutive women as CEO . . . and where is Mr. Redi? Was he a human sacrifice?
*. On the DVD commentary Steve Haberman adds to this by mentioning the various lesbian undertones that are hinted at. I’m not sure Frances’s relationship with Jacqueline can be read as “subtextually lesbian” (it seems more like a case of dog-like devotion to me), but the woman at the party who tells Mary she “knew” Jacqueline is another story. What does she mean when she says they “were intimate,” but she can’t tell Mary about it because she’s “too young”? Is this why Gregory has turned so cold toward his wife?
*. Reading something into lines like these is fair game. In the same snatch of dialogue the woman also says that Jacqueline “took up” with Dr. Judd. This sparks a round of suspicious looks. We are meant to be curious as to what this means. If this is the same Dr. Judd from Cat People then we know he has little respect for doctor-patient boundaries.
*. Another interesting angle is the devil worship business. A foreshadowing of Rosemary’s Baby? I think there’s a bit of that. These are such normal-seeming New Yorkers. Sadly, but perhaps understandably given censorship issues, we don’t go very far down this road. And the finale, which has the entire coven chastised and humiliated by a simple recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is absolutely ridiculous. What, they hadn’t heard that before?
*. As always, shadows are an important part of nearly every shot. Notice in particular how a shadow of the triangular coven symbol is thrown on Mary’s back in the hallway scene. In fact, it appears several times in that shot, which seems totally unrealistic. They must have had multiple light sources aiming through a bunch of different stencils to throw the symbol on her back and on the walls.
*. This isn’t one of Lewton’s best films, though it has its champions. There are limits on how much can be done with a script this bad. However, like all of Lewton’s work it has a special curiosity value.