Seventh Victim, The (aka 7th Victim): Classis Horror, Produced by Val Lewton, Directed by Mark Robson

Mark Robson (best known for “Peyton Place”) made a splashy directing debut in this Val Letwon produced horror film–an underestimated noir thriller.

The film stars the young Kim Hunter, in her impressive screen debut, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell and Hugh Beaumont.

Written by DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O’Neal, this low-budget RKO production centers on a young woman who discovers an underground cult of devil worshippers in New York’s Greenwich Village, while searching for her missing sister.

O’Neal had written the script as a murder mystery, set in California, that followed a woman hunted by a serial killer. Bodeen revised the script, basing the story on a Satanic society in New York.

Released on August 21, 1943, the film was a commercial flop, greeted by mixed reviews from from critics, who complained about the text’s incoherence. It turns out that Robson and editor John Lockert had removed some crucial scenes from the final cut, including a resolution.

The film’s stature got elevated by auteurist critics in the 1970s, and subjected to interesting analyses by some gay critics who pointed out the feature’s homoerotic subtext.

A quote from John Donne sets the tone: “I run to death, and death meets me as fast/ and all my pleasures are like yesterday.”

Hunter plays Mary Gibson, a young woman at Highcliffe Academy, a Catholic boarding school, learns that her older sister and only relative, Jacqueline Gibson (Jean Brooks) is missing and has not paid Mary’s tuition in months. Told that she can remain enrolled only if working for the school, Mary leaves, determines to find her sister, who owns La Sagesse, a cosmetics company.

In New York, Mary finds that Jacqueline sold her cosmetics business. Jacqueline’s friend and former employee, Frances Fallon (Jewell), suggests that Mary visit the Italian restaurant Dante’s.

Mary then discovers that Jacqueline has rented a room above the store, but never moved in. The room is empty, except for a wooden chair and a noose hanging from the ceiling.

Mary’s investigation leads her to Jacqueline’s secret husband, Gregory Ward (Beaumont), a poet, Jason Hoag (Erford Gage); and a mysterious psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Judd (Conway).  As a patient, Jacqueline sought treatment for depression, related to her membership in the Satanic cult, the Palladists. She was lured into joining the cult by former co-workers.

Mary enlists private detective Irving August (Lou Lubin), but he is stabbed to death while investigating  the La Sagesse headquarters. Judd eventually helps Mary locate Jacqueline, who has gone into hiding. Jacqueline is later kidnapped by the cult members and condemned to death for betrayal–the seventh person to be condemned, hence the film’s title.

The cult members decide that the suicidal Jacqueline should kill herself. When she refuses, they let her leave, but send an assassin, who chases her through the darkened streets with switchblade.  She eludes him and returns to her apartment above Dante’s.  After meeting her neighbor Mimi (Elizabeth Russell), a terminally ill woman who confesses she’s afraid to die, Jacqueline enters her apartment and hangs herself. The sound of the chair falling over is heard, but the sick woman leaves for the evening.