Val Lewton, Cat People, Martin Scorsesce

Written by Joe D on January 15th, 2008


Martin Scorsesce produced and narrated a film about producer Val Lewton, Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows. It’s very good and it’s great to see an under appreciated filmmaker get his due. TCM showed a lot of Lewton’s work, especially the RKO stuff, to complement the premier of this documentary, directed by Kent Jones by the way. So much has been written about Lewton’s films, I don’t want to repeat what’s already been said but let me throw my 2 cents in. His work especially with Touneur, wise and Robson was so subtle and atmospheric, so artfully made (Nicholas Musuraca is one of the all time masters of B&W cinematography, check out Out Of The Past and Albert S. D’Agostino , one of the greatest Production Designers ever to put a fountain on a set) There’s nothing today that compares with this quality filmmaking! Nothing!

And here’s something I noticed in Cat People. There is a transitional device almost like a fade to black and back but it’s not, it’s an optical that mimics a shadow passing in front of the camera, like a black panther wiping the lens. I’ve never seen this technique used elsewhere and I’ve never heard mention of it made by anyone. It is very subtle and because it’s used to transition from one scene to another it’s accepted as a typical fade in/out yet it creates a sense of unease that sneaks up on you, just like the rest of the film. It slowly wraps you up in a fog of suspense so suddenly you realize you’re lost, in a dark place at night and something may be following you. The documentary also tells you how hard Lewton worked. He killed himself making these films for unappreciative assholes. It’s just not right. And then Mark Robson, the editor he promoted to director, at great personal cost, screws him out of a partnership with Robert Wise and himself! They don’t give the details in the documentary but it certainly makes Mr. Robson look like a scumbag. By the way this review is part of the Val Lewton Blogathon, hosted by The Evening Class.

How could you do it, Mark Robson?