96 Great Directors: Jacques Tourneur

“Largely, I hate doing television; it’s horrible. It’s against everything I believe in; if you don’t bring some of your individuality and some of your experience and sensitivity to bear on a subject, you don’t get more than a mechanical result.”

What Got This Director Here?
: Out of the Past, mostly.

My Favorite Past Experience Was…: Cat People.

What Did I Watch: I Walked With a Zombie and Leopard Man.

Where Does He Fit: In a world where the white people are sort of casually dumb about everything they face, it takes the utter insanity of Lewton and Torneur to force a story that is absolutely nothing like its exploitation title to go into a world where the silhouette of a man that stares is the most frightening thing of all. Teresa Harris is giving the only good performance here, but really, it’s all about the cinematography, an utterly demented chiaroscuro feat that nevertheless feels very different from Cat People. It is so ambiguous and weird that you essentially have to seize onto the momentum of the women walking through the bushes for dear life.


Torneur’s other 1943 horror picture, meanwhile, is sort of like Cat People’s unofficial sequel, but with a man instead of…people. The opening titles click and clack delightfully, but it’s still his weakest of his three Lewton collaborations by a few hairs (and with The Seventh Victim coming out that year, this and Ghost Ship have been a bit unfairly forgotten). It’s episodic, but I don’t mind that as much as you’d think (blame The Odyssey), and the structure of giving each victim their own short before the leopard kills them is fascinating. It’s so much more oppressive and grim, too.


Most Valuable Asset: The shadows hold horrors of a human sort.
Most Excited For: Out of the Past.
Did They Deserve a Spot?: Yes.

Coming Up Next: Underrated overrated dramaturgist William Wyler.


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