Sunday, January 06, 2008

Val Lewton

A week from tomorrow night TCM will air the original Martin Scorcese docu bio of Val Lewton. This should be of interest to most genre writers and readers. But it should be especially interesting to those of us who like hardboiled and noir. Certain kinds of horror incorporate noir atmosphere and tropes. Most of Lewton's nine most famous horror movies demonstrate this clearly, most especially (for me anyway) The Seventh Victim and The Leopard Man.

I was reminded of all this today because of a post of Todd Mason's on Rara-Avis. Speaking of Fritz Leiber he says: "His very important early story "Smoke Ghost," (is) as noir as you could possibly want."

True. A number of Weird Tales writers were able to work in hardboiled because the turf was similar. The darkness that only some of us can see. The Leiber story is a masterpiece and one of the most memorable stories I've ever read. It dramatizes and explains the modern world more elegantly and terrifyingly than anything I've read. Not bad for five thousand words.

Give the Lewton bio a look. I tend to agree with David Thomson that when people say Lewton should have been given more expensive films to make they're missing the point. This type of material was his passion. He wasn't a song and dance man nor a Big Theme guy. He was what he was and what he was was a damned good B film maker.

4 comments:

Todd Mason said...

And it's notable that your two choices, THE LEOPARD MAN (from a Woolrich suspense novel) and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, are two that have no supernatural aspect to them, though the latter suggests it might at various points...my leaking brainpan suggests that this was also true, among the films recently collected together for DVD release, only of BEDLAM. Given these, the absence of spy drama MLLE. FIFI from the set, the only Lewton Unit suspense or horror films which I've yet to see, seems foolish at best. Might as well have thrown it and YOUTH RUNS WILD in, even if they chose to call them bonuses. Thanks for the heads up...and for the name-check...though, you know, "Smoke Ghost" was one of Leiber's major incursions of WEIRD TALES into John Campbell's UNKNOWN/UNKNOWN WOLRDS...JWC no fool, in this regard, even if Dorothy McIllwraith had an odd blind spot where early Leiber was concerned (no to the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, perhaps no to "Smoke Ghost," but yes to some of his worst early work).

Ed Gorman said...

Todd would you please write me off line at ejgorman99@aol.com Thanks Ed

TM said...

Will do/have done in fact, Ed...and it might be unfair to lay all that blame at DM's door, as Farnsworth Wright initially bounced the Fafhrd stories for WT.

Bob Levinson said...

Hi, Ed...

A book worth its weight in words (and stills) is VAL LEWTON: THE REALITY OF TERROR by Joel E. Siegel, published by Viking thirty-something years ago in its "Cinema One" series. Might take some Ebaying to find...