Like sleep, or cocaine, the more movies I see in a short period of time the more I tend to want to watch something recreationally so as to cleanse the palate between tastings, so to speak. (You can imagine what the spit bucket looks like this late in the year.) Besides, it’s sort of exciting to find yourself in that groove where movies suddenly all seem ten minutes long (no small boon given stuff like The White Countess and Harry Potter 4) – and the writing on them eases if only for a short while.
Watched Tim Blake Nelson’s Eye of God for the fifth or sixth time, spurred on by the use of the Abraham/Isaac story in the ridiculous The Bee Season which also opens Nelson’s picture, to be impressed anew by its sense of quiet, by its tremendous cast (anchored by the great Martha Plimpton in her definitive role and national treasure Richard Jenkins), and by its clear-eyed vision that smoothes the wrinkles in time it offers in its narrative. I’m haunted by a moment when a boy played by Nick Stahl finds something on the ground and grips it so hard it takes four grown men to wrestle it away from him – and of the moment that Hal Hartley advised Nelson to move to the prologue of the picture, when that same boy turns, the “wrong” way (around to the left rather than right), caught in a car’s headlights: pale, smeared with gore, and struck dumb by something he’s seen. The whole film is about bearing witness, really, and that desire to make some sort of connection. Jenkins’ parole officer tells, piecemeal, he and his wife’s doomed attempts to conceive a child while Plimpton’s resilient small-town girl Ainsley earns a late-night bus-stop reputation for being “a talker” and, thus, to be avoided at all costs. Hal Holbrook is wonderful as a tired sheriff, his voiceover narration at the beginning and end taking on the monumental ennui of M. Emmett Walsh’s from Blood Simple - and so is Kevin Anderson as a man a little too in love with God.
One of the great debuts – it fits comfortably alongside other such modern Southern Gothics as Lone Star and One False Move.
Also took another spin around Mark Robson’s Val Lewton-produced noir inversion The Seventh Victim. Starring Kim Hunter as Mary, a few years before her Oscar spin as Stella in Kazan’s Streetcar Named Desire, it locates her at the center of the typical noir set-up which, in 1943, was still in its stem-cell stage on film (The Maltese Falcon tipping many of the elements of the popular formula two years previous) – the femme fatale, then, becomes her contact in the big city, lawyer Gregory Ward (Hugh “Ward Cleaver” Beaumont), an acquaintance (no fair telling how) of Mary’s missing sister.
Given a miniscule budget and a title as was RKO’s habit with Lewton, the original story was to have been a woman-in-peril piece the twist of which being that she was also the gumshoe – something like a D.O.A. conceit, I guess, in which her failure to solve whatever would result in her becoming the title’s (and the killer’s) seventh victim. What evolved from that is a story of Mary, pulled from a creepy parochial school (she’s warned never to return by a nervous secretary), and thrown into the turmoil of the big city where it’s revealed that the object of her sister’s disappearance is a very genteel social club comprised entirely of earnest Satanists. A precursor to Rosemary’s Baby in its scenes of smoking-club devil worship (the grotesques, the aged and the subtly crippled), it also prefigures Psycho’s shower scene with a silhouette of a woman in a hat (that looks like horns, naturally) menacing poor Mary in the shower. The best scene of the film, however, involves Mary’s hiring of a private eye, the corpse of whom she later encounters in a most unusual way. The Seventh Victim, despite its supernatural trappings, is really more noir than typical Lewton horror and has, I think, been regarded as spare parts as a result – but it’s prime for rediscovery. Its ending, in particular, is the sort of thing that we would never, ever see today: a bleak, almost nihilistic series of images and dialogue that suggest that it isn’t just that there’s no love in the naked city, but that there’s no possibility of it, either.
Robson, like Robert Wise, was an editor for RKO before getting his big break with Lewton – he would go on to helm Ghost Ship, The Isle of the Dead, and, finally fully hitting his stride, Bedlam, with Lewton, before going on to helm a few fairly dreadful big-budget war and bodice ripper flicks. Best known today for Peyton Place, Robson’s peak came more than a decade earlier – and his impressive four-film cycle with Lewton begins here.