The Seventh Victim - 1943
Directed by Mark Robson
RKO Production #416
Val Lewton - Producer, Co-writer
Production started: May 5, 1943
Production finish: May 29, 1943
Running time 1 hour, 11 minutes (71 minutes)
The Seventh Victim began as a "long short story" written by DeWitt Bodeen in which an orphan girl gets involved with a string of murders centered around the famous Signal Hills Oil Wells near Los Angeles which were at one time the most productive oil fields in the world. The heroine realizes she will be "the seventh victim" if she doesn't figure out who the murderer is. Bodeen had just been given a raise in salary and a new long-term contract at RKO because of the huge success for The Cat People and an all-expenses paid vacation to New York City. He handed off The Seventh Victim story to Lewton and left for New York with Lewton asking Bodeen to research writer Washington Irving* and the Tarrytown Legends while there, and during the visit Lewton contacted him and asked he try to attend a meeting of a witches' coven which was then arranged by the RKO office.
By the time Bodeen returned with his research on the witches' coven, Lewton had junked the crime and murder plot for The Seventh Victim and come up a tale in which the orphaned girl is searching for her missing sister in New York City and gets entangled with a group of devil-worshippers teaching "evil for evil's sake" in Greenwich Village. The group, called Palladists*** in the story, are also searching for the sister as she had once been a member of their group. In the course of the story we realize if she is found (she is deliberately hiding) she would become "the seventh victim," since anyone leaving their order was doomed to die despite the fact they were actually pacifist in philosophy. How the death would come about in such a situation, and the drama of locating the sister before something happened to her was the main source of tension in the story. The writer Charles O'Neal was assigned to co-write the script with Bodeen, and while they proceeded with script development, Lewton was also working on three other films at the same time, a sequel to Cat People to be called Curse of the Cat People, also a new project to be titled The Leopard Man, and because RKO had an expensive and good-looking ship set left over from Pacific Liner, they wanted Lewton to use it for something, hence: The Ghost Ship.
Lewton gave film editor Mark Robson his first chance as a director, and obtained Kim Hunter from his old boss David O. Selznick. In Dewitt Bodeen's book More from Hollywood! (1977, Tantivy Press) he describes how Lewton arranged a screen test for Kim Hunter on the Ghost Ship set using a scene from the ocean liner play Outward Bound and directed by Jacques Tournier. The resulting screen test removed any objections from the RKO front office for taking on a complete newcomer in a major role.
More than any other Lewton film, The Seventh Victim deals with existential themes and in particular what author J. P. Telotte**** calls the "fear of meaninglessness or the irrational." Jacqueline (played by Jean Brooks) joined and then abandoned the Palladist group, an action that is forbidden and is supposed to be dealt with by death, yet the group itself is also bound by the contradicting command of nonviolence. Death is within the film in several ways, and in a scene cut out of the final release print, there is the line from the character Jason Hoag "I am alive yet every hope I had is dead. Death can be good. Death can be happy..."*****
The Seventh Victim has been an influential film, not only because of the interesting handling of its themes of belief, lack of belief, and the sheer morbid melancholy permeating from much of the cast of characters (with perhaps the rather high relief exception of Tom Conway's Dr. Judd), but because The Seventh Victim has a visual world that is sharp and effective. Alfred Hitchcock's famous "shower scene" from Psycho is anticipated by a very similar shower scene in this film, and Carol Reed's The Third Man uses a Lewton "bus" effect almost shot for shot (when Jacqueline walks home alone at night and is startled by a stray dog knocking over a garbage can).
Notes on The Seventh Victim
How Ken Yousten described the film on his pioneering "official" Val Lewton site back in 1998: "Sweet young Mary goes to the big city to find her missing sister Jacqueline, only to find that Jacqueline has taken up with a group of Satanists and picked up some new attitudes about death." (Yousten also said: "One of the nice things about writing something like this is the you can parade your opinions around as if they actually mean something. With that in mind, The Seventh Victim is my favorite Lewton film".)
Director: Mark Robson. Assistant Director: William Dorfman. Script: Charles O'Neal, DeWitt Bodeen. Photography: Nicholas Musuraca. Editor: John Lockert. Art Directors: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller. Set Decorators: Darrell Silvera, Harley Miller. Music: Roy Webb. Musical Director: C. Bakaleinikoff. Costumes: Renie. Sound Recordist: John C. Grubb.
Cast: Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jean Brooks (Jacqueline Gibson), Isabel Jewell (Frances Fallon), Kim Hunter (Mary Gibson), Evelyn Brent (Natalie Cortez), Erford Gage (Jason Hoag), Ben Bard (Bruns), Hugh Beaumont (Gregory Ward), Chef Milani (Mr. Romari), Marguerita Sylva (Mrs. Romari), Mary Newton (Mrs. Redi), Wally Brown (Durk), Feodor Chaliapin (Leo), Eve March (Miss Gilchrist), Tola Nesmith (Mrs. Lowood), Edythe Elliott (Mrs. Swift), Milton Kibbee (Joseph), Marianne Mosner (Miss Rowan), Elizabeth Russell (Mimi), Joan Barclay (Gladys), William Halligan (Radeau), Lou Lubin (Irving August), Kernan Cripps (Cop), Dewey Robinson (Conductor), Lloyd Ingraham (Watchman), Ann Summers (Miss Summers), Tiny Jones (Newsvendor), Sara Selby (Miss Gottschalk), Betty Roadman (Mrs. Wheeler), Eileen O'Malley and Lorna Dunn (Mothers).
Main Cast of The Seventh Victim
Kim Hunter** as Mary Gibson: This was Kim Hunter's debut film role. She would later win an Academy Award for her role in A Streetcar Named Desire from 1951.
Tom Conway as Dr. Louis Judd: Conway was a prolific actor who appeared in many of Val Lewton's films, and judging by the script, the character was especially created for his unique way of giving a line reading.
Jean Brooks as Jacqueline Gibson: Brooks also worked with Lewton on other films such as The Leopard Man. Brooks was born in 1915 as Ruby Matilda Kelly and originally worked as a singer, before being signed to a film contract with MGM. She struggled with alcoholism later in her life and died of a stomach ulcer on November 25, 1963. Her most notable roles are considered to be her work with Lewton..
Isabel Jewell as Frances Fallon: Jewell had a varied career in film, working on numerous projects in the 1930s and 1940s.
Hugh Beaumont as Gregory Ward: Beaumont is best known for his later role as Ward Cleaver on the TV show Leave It to Beaver.
Evelyn Brent as Natalie Cortez: Brent was a star of the silent era who successfully transitioned to sound films. She was born Mary Elizabeth Riggs on October 20, 1899. She started in film in the early 1910s, working in short films and bit parts. One of her most famous roles was for the 1924 film The Last Command, directed by Josef von Sternberg. She passed away in 1975.
Excerpts from The Seventh Victim script
Below are a pair of scenes from The Seventh Victim script in the Library of Congress. One is a short scene that is in the film, but which the script shows with a slightly different detail showing more of Dr. Judd’s "charm," prompting the question, is he a kleptomaniac? Another is an extended scene between Judd and one of the Palladists.
(page 33 script page dated 5/12/43, from Lewton's script copy at the Library of Congress)
I’m sorry. I don’t practice anymore. I find
it easier to write about mental illness
and leave the cure of it to others.
The buzzer sounds and Miss Summers brings the ‘phone
receiver to her ear.
(looking up from the ‘phone)
Mr. Ward is free now, Doctor.
Judd gets up and saunters toward the door.
(as he walks)
There are any number of other
psychiatrists who can help your
father - - dipsomania is rather
He smiles charmingly at her, and deliberately pockets her lighter.
(PAGE 42 Dated 5/4/43)
INT. JUDD’S APT. - LATE AFTERNOON
It is a cheap, furnished apartment. An Ambusson carpet on
the floor. The furniture is Grand Rapids Sheraton and
the pictures on the wall are representative of hotel art
at its worst...
(PAGE 80? Dated 5/6/43)
This city is my world. I know every
rat-infested corner of my world and
every starlit chamber of its purity
(PAGE 67 undated)
INT. FLANDERS ARMS - JUDD’S APARTMENT - DAY
Judd, dressed in a dressing gown, is seated on the straight
chair before the makeshift desk, talking with Mrs. Cortez
who is dressed in street clothing and who has perched
herself on the arms of a large, overstuffed chair. They have
evidently been talking for a some time. The scene opens
with a slight lull in the conversation, while Judd takes a
cigarette and lights it, blows out the first inhalation of
smoke and looks squarely at Mrs. Cortez.
I know the others - - Redi,
Fallon, Leo, Bruns. But I
would never have guessed
it of you Natalie.
One believes - - its like
any other religion...
I’d hardly describe it that
way - - The worship of evil
is a pretty dreadful and
It seems right to us.
I know the theory behind
the movement. If one
believes in good, one
believes in the devil. And
an intellectual person can
make his choice - - that’s it, isn’t it?
Because you are intelligent - -
that’s why they sent me to you - -
I think I can give you a more
practical reason for your kind invitation.
I know too much. I was Jacqueline’s
I thought it was a more
Perhaps, Natalie, this is a
bargain you’re offering me - -
I am allowed to join - -
to buy safety by betraying
Jacqueline - - Is that it?
I haven’t said anything of
But you would like to
know where she is?
Yes. There are certain
I can imagine. But you did
say you came to me as
my friend - -
that you were concerned
I’m afraid you have mistaken
my motive, Louis. I thought
you might understand and
I have no sympathy for
either good or evil. I have
only curiosity - - a professional
curiosity. What unhappy
people most of you are!
Are we? I thought I
was very gay.
(Page 69 Dated 5/6/43)
A gay lot - Redi, for instance.
I don’t know what her sorrow is,
but her life’s an empty one.
She’s had to have THIS to cling
to. Francis Fallon, with her
worship of Jacqueline, has had
to follow like a sheep. And
Bruns, the fanatic. And you...
He looks at her empty sleeve. She looks down,
her mouth twists in a smile.
I was a great dancer.
A strange collection. You’re like
the false god you worship...
fallen angels, all of you.
Life has betrayed us. We’ve
found there is no heaven on
earth, so we must worship
evil for evil’s own sake.
We are not wicked. We commit
no violence, unless...
(smiling, close to her)
(A pause, then smiling, sure
No, you draw no secrets from
me, as you draw them from
Jacqueline. You are not one of
us yet. You’re clever, Louis, but
I recognize your interest in me
for what it is worth. You are only
curious. You have never loved
a woman who had but one arm.
It would be a charming experience.
She might only protest half as much.
You’re flippant and perhaps wise, but
not wise enough to see the truth,
Judd walks with Mrs. Cortez to the door.
What is truth?
MRS. CORTEZ looks at him from the doorway in surprise.
These are the first words I have
beard you say without mockery
Additional script note: : The “Lord’s Prayer confrontation” scene in the film between Judd, Jason and the Palladists, is in the script as only a brief face-off between Jason and the Palladists. Also, the script ending is much different, in that Jason, shown that his faith has failed (for Mary leaves with Gregory and he is left alone) is described as being empty and miserable - - in a way much like the description that Judd gives of the Palladists.
Preview trailer for The Seventh Victim
*Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer, and historian of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" which are considered part of the New York area "Tarrytown Legends."
** Kim Hunter: born Janet Cole, Kim Hunter was an American film, theatre, and television actress. She is perhaps best known for her role as Stella Kowalski in the film A Streetcar Named Desire for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1952.
*** Palladists: The "Palladist conspiracy" is a 19th century hoax in which an international cult of Luciferian devotees operated as a secret organization within Freemasonry utilizing rituals and networking to supposedly expand their control over the major functions of world societies.
**** Dreams of Darkness: Fantasy and the Films of Val Lewton by J. P. Telotte
224 pages, University of Illinois, 1985. Quotation is from the chapter "Repetition and the Experience of Limitation: The Seventh Victim."
*****Quoted from the book Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror By Joel E. Siegell, The Viking Press, 1973.
Original page March 9, 1999 | Last update June 20, 2023