As no one has heard from her sister in some time and tuition money has stopped flowing, Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter, in her film debut) leaves her private school and heads to New York City. Sister's landlords open the door to her Greenwich Village apartment.
They see a chair, still upright, with a noose hanging above it.
The Seventh Victim (1943) fared poorly at first, though it made some money in England. Pity, because it holds a curious place in the history of the horror film. Beautifully shot in shadows and light, it links Film Noir with the horror genre. It presages later occult thrillers, and likely inspired one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous scenes. It also shares a cinematic universe with a well-remembered (and remade) 1940s horror movie.
Mary searches for her missing sister around New York, encountering friends, foes, deliberate deception, and the murder of a detective with important information. One of her newfound allies claims to be her sister's husband. Another is Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway), the psychiatrist who appears in Cat People.1
The film boasts an impressive visual style. The highlight may be a surreal, suspenseful chase through a studio-created, Caligarian Greenwich Village. Throughout, ...Victim generates a strong sense of unease and real suspense.
One of the most jarring aspects, for cinephiles, may be Mary's brief, interrupted shower. It resembles Psycho's notorious scene enough that it would be easy to believe it provided Hitchcock with the germ of the idea he would realize almost twenty years later.
The Seventh Victim also gets read as a film driven in part by a secret same-sex relationships. It's a plausible reading. Any such reference was then banned under the Hayes Code, and had to be presented in a coded manner. It's worth noting, at the same time, that this film violates another tenet of the Code, with its uncompromising conclusion.
Not surprising, given its low budget and period content restrictions, the film presents an uneven viewing experience. Portions of the story seem jarringly disjointed. I surmised scenes had been cut before learning this was in fact the case. The villains, when revealed, have been softened a little too much. The world's least threatening and least competent cultists, they follow dubious rules rather than just murder a certain character outright, which would solve their central problem. Near the end, they react complacently, even thoughtfully, when confronted with rhetoric at which these characters should at least roll their eyes, if not laugh uproariously.
The motives and actions of Mary and her allies also prove puzzling. At one point, they leave a disturbed woman who is in danger alone, figuring she'll be perfectly safe. Our heroine herself, a fairly sharp character who knows something sinister's afoot and has witnessed a murder, proves absurdly trusting of strangers.
The flaws are secondary. The Seventh Victim's reputation has grown over the decades, and it often turns up around Halloween. It remains a well-acted, curiously watchable cult film from an earlier time, made by people looking towards the cinematic future.
Director: Mark Robson
Writers: Charles O'Neal, DeWitt Bodeen
Producer: Val Lewton
Kim Hunter as Mary Gibson
Jean Brooks as Jacqueline Gibson
Tom Conway as Dr. Louis Judd
Isabel Jewell as Frances Fallon
Evelyn Brent as Natalie Cortez
Erford Gage as Jason Hoag
Ben Bard as Mr. Brun
Hugh Beaumont as Gregory Ward
Chef Milani as Mr. Giacomo Romari
Marguerita Sylva as Mrs. Bella Romari
Joan Barclay as Gladys
Lou Lubin as Irving August
1. His presence in this film creates some potential continuity problems. The easiest solution would be to assume that The Seventh Victim takes place before Cat People, though made and released later.