I Walked With a Zombie (1943)   1 comment

zombie poster2

“Everything good dies here, even the stars.”
-Paul “Cheery” Holland (Tom Conway)

Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes a position caring for the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies.  The land owner, Paul Holland (Tom Conway), a dark, brooding soul, wants the best for his wife.  He feels guilty because he wouldn’t let her leave him for his stepbrother, Wesley Rand (James Ellison) and now she’s kind of out of it.  Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon) walks around the island in a trance wearing a diaphanous white gown.  It seems she came down with a fever which settled in her spinal column and turned her into a zombie.  Sounds logical.

walk
“Take a left at the hanging goat.”

Since Jessica has no mobility problems, I wonder if the spinal column she’s using is a spare she keeps around for emergencies.  Anyway, Betsy adapts quickly and soon she’s solving everyone’s problems and falling in love with the host.

love
“This guy’s as suave as Dean Stockwell.”

Adapted by Curtis Siodmak and Ardel Wray from Inez Wallace’s story and Charlotte Brontë’s book, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE watches like JANE EYRE GOES TO THE TROPICS, but with sugar cane instead of fox hunts.  Dee plays the altruistic martyr, Jane Eyre.  Conway is the dashing, yet damaged Rochester, and Gordon plays the unbalanced Mrs. Rochester.  In this case, Jessica/Mrs. Rochester goes mad, not by excess, but by the influence of voodoo and guilt.

jessica
You know, zombie spinal fever affects three out of five unfaithful wives.

Edith Barrett, who plays Paul and Wesley’s mother, Mrs. Rand in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, is the faithful servant, Mrs. Fairfax.  In a cool movie twist, Barrett plays Mrs. Fairfax for real in Robert Stevenson’s JANE EYRE (also 1943) with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  I love this kind of stuff.

beach
“Heathcliff!”
“No, no, you fool!  Wrong movie!”

Director, Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton do atmosphere like few others and the film abounds with moody staircases, rocky beaches, and billowy curtains.  Frenzied bongo-heavy religious ceremonies and scary walks through the cane fields add a nifty exotic tone and the acting is wonderful.  The leads work well together and Dee and Conway have a lovely romantic rapport.  The ensemble is good too.  Sir Lancelot has a nice part as a local calypso singer.  Veteran character actor James Bell plays Jessica’s doctor and Theresa Harris is Alma, the Holland family’s maid.  Harris has a nice part in this film.  She plays a servant, but not a cartoony or brainless one.  Alma speaks with an authentic, but not exaggerated accent and is a sensible person.  For a black actress in the 1940s, that’s a coup.  It may be unusual for movies of the 1940s, but it’s not for Lewton’s films.  Watch THE LEOPARD MAN or CAT PEOPLE and you’ll see non-white actors and women playing intelligent, multi-layered parts.  It’s refreshing.

theresa harris
Alma

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE is classified as a horror film, but it’s more of a drama/thriller with zombies added for spice.  I like it.  A talented team of people both in front of and behind the camera make it a fun watch and the setting looks lovely in black and white.  It flies by, too.  The film packs a lot into its spare sixty-nine minutes.  Also, Tom Conway.  I love Tom Conway.  He’s so dashing, it hurts.

skullrock
This is the damnedest game of jacks.

 

 

 

 

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One response to “I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

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  1. Reblogged this on clawkent.

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