Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, James Bell, Christine Gordon, Theresa Harris, Sir Lancelot, Darby Jones, Jeni Le Gon
Written by: Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray, based on a story by Inez Wallace
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 69
Date: 21/04/1943

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Shame and Scandal

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After the hit Cat People (1942), director Jacques Tourneur returned to direct twice more for producer Val Lewton, and his three films are arguably the best of the cycle.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) one-ups Cat People with its stylish visual scheme and West Indies voodoo rhythms. Its astonishing use of shadows and silences has rarely been equaled.

Frances Dee stars as Betsy Connell, a nurse sent to a plantation on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian to look after a sick woman, Jessica (Christine Gordon), who exists in a kind of paralysis (though she's sometimes able to walk).

Jessica's husband, plantation owner Paul Holland (Tom Conway), is a grim soul who has a speech about how death lurks behind everything beautiful. Betsy also meets Paul's half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison), who drinks too much. She soon learns about voodoo rituals on the island and discovers that Jessica has some strange connection with them (is she a zombie?).

Tourneur was always ahead of his time with his treatment of non-white characters, such as the sweet, knowledgeable maid Alma (Teresa Harris), and the island Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who sings a mysterious song about the Rand family.

Lewton actually based his tale -- very loosely -- on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. [I Walked with a Zombie is available on DVD in a double-bill with The Body Snatcher.]

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