“Your sister. Have you heard from her recently?”
As the film opens, Mary (Kim Hunter in her film debut) is informed by the headmistress of her boarding school that her older sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) is missing, and has not paid the girl’s tuition for months. Mary immediately travels to New York City and locates her sister’s apartment, which is devoid of all furniture, save for a single chair and a noose hanging from the ceiling.
Mary enlists the aid of three men to help her discover what happened to her sister: Jacqueline’s husband (Hugh Beaumont), a detective (Lou Lubin), and a poet (Erford Gage). In the process, she discovers her sister was a member of a Satanic cult called the Palladists (named for an alleged real Theistic Satanic Society originating in France).
Jacqueline, it is discovered, was also seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) about her involvement in the cult, and her suicidal tendencies. The Satanic members are pledged to non-violence. However, they also have a rule that states any member who speaks openly about their group, must die. Their solution to this quandary is to kidnap Jacqueline and try to convince her to commit suicide by drinking poison.
“You’ve always talked about suicide. About ending it all when you want to.”
“Yes,” Jacqueline responds as the game of wills begins, “when I want to.”
Val Lewton, famed RKO producer of Horror Noir, released the film in 1943, a year after his masterpiece, Cat People. As an added bonus to Lewton fans, Dr. Judd is the same psychiatrist who tried to treat Irena’s neurosis in the aforementioned film, and Elizabeth Russell reprises her small, but unforgettable role as a mysterous cat-like woman. The fact that Russell leaves Jacqueline’s apartment building dressed in the same attire that she appeared wearing in Cat People’s restaurant scene, adds weight to the theory that the films take place at the same time.
The film has its flaws. Although on the page, Mary is supposed to be sweet and determined, she comes off too dull compared to all the colorful characters around her. There’s a totally unnecessary and unbelievable romance of the- we are going to fall in love for no other reason but because we are the leads- variety. And a really hokey moralistic speech at the end that sounds totally tacked on.
Those are just minor flaws, however. With its intriguing plot, enigmatic characters, and shadowy camera work- The Seventh Victim earns an A.