Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007)
Director: Kent Jones
Screenplay: Kent Jones
Stars: Martin Scorsese (narrator), Orson Welles, Val E. Lewton, Roger Corman, Jacques Tourneur, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Robert Wise.
The Overview: Beware of spoilers…
Val Lewton began his career as a writer of pulp fiction. He had two published novels before he took a job at MGM. There Lewton wrote promotional copy and film novelizations. Lewton later became publicist and assistant to David Selznick. Under Selznick, Lewton worked as a story editor and uncredited writer on Gone with the Wind.
In 1942, Val Lewton left MGM to become head of the horror division at RKO studios. He was given carte blanche if he followed three rules: 1) Each film had to be made for $150,000 or less. 2) Each film had to run 75 minutes or less. 3) Lewton’s supervisors at RKO would provide the film titles. Surprisingly, given these parameters, Lewton made a name for himself by taking control of all other aspects of the films he produced.
Lewton’s first RKO film, Cat People became RKO’s biggest hit of the year. Lewton developed a friendship with it’s director, Jacques Tourneur. They reteamed on two other films (I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man). Lewton gave Robert Wise (The Curse of the Cat People) and Mark Robson (The Seventh Victim) their first opportunities to direct. Boris Karloff also appeared in three of Lewton’s films (Isle of the Dead; The body Snatcher and Bedlam). Karloff credited Lewton for helping rejuvenate his career. Val Lewton always wrote the final draft of the films he produced, but seldom took a writing credit. In the two cases where he did accept a credit, Lewton used the pseudonym Carlos Keith (which he also used for some novels).
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows focuses on Lewton’s career at RKO and the (mostly horror) films he produced there. The films were: Cat People (1942); I Walked with a Zombie (1943); The Leopard Man (1943); The Seventh Victim (1943); The Ghost Ship (1943); The Curse of the Cat People (1944); Mademoiselle Fifi (1944); Youth Runs Wild (1944); The Body Snatcher (1945); Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946).
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows earns 3 of 5 stars.