Instead of a director or an actor, Cinematek is spotlighting a producer for a change. Val Lewton was not whistling Dixie. The man elevated the B-movie to unseen heights.
Val Lewton was born in Yalta, but he grew up in the United States. During the Second World War, he became head of the horror department at RKO, the film studio that is best-known for masterpieces like King Kong, Citizen Kane, and the dance films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Lewton was allowed to do whatever he wanted as long as his films were low budget, ran no longer than 75 minutes each, and that he didn’t mess with the titles. Cat People, his very first production, was a huge hit and is almost always listed as one of the best horror films of all time. In the film, a young woman does not dare to make love with her boyfriend. She is convinced that she is descended from women who turn into panthers whenever they experience passionate emotions.
Of course Cat People is a fantastic film thanks to the skill of director Jacques Tourneur and camera virtuoso Nick Musuraca. But time has shown that producer Val Lewton likewise left his mark on a piece of film history that is still being cherished today. He elevated a whole series of B movies to unseen heights thanks to a meticulous and efficient plan of attack.
Are you scared yet?
“If you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it you want! We’re great ones for dark patches,” he once said. There is no need for expensive monsters and costly special effects if you can terrify your audience with some rustling in the bushes or an ominous shadow. When Tourneur was promoted to A-films, Lewton collaborated with other up-and-coming talents, like Robert Wise (West Side Story).
If, after watching Cat People, you are hungry for more expressive brilliance and scary thrills, you can sink your teeth into the masterful The Leopard Man and I Walked with a Zombie by Tourneur, the powerful The Body Snatcher by Wise, or The Seventh Victim, a gem by Mark Robson that evokes the atmosphere of evil lurking in the city so well that we guarantee you will not dare to walk home alone afterwards.
FOCUS: VAL LEWTON 17/9 > 14/10, Cinematek