I Walked With a Zombie

Screening on Film
Directed by Jacques Tourneur.
With James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway.
US, 1943, 35mm, black & white, 69 min.
Print source: Warner Bros.

Lewton’s second film with director Jacques Tourneur borrows from Jane Eyre in its conception of a romantic plot burdened by the past, but the Caribbean setting and remarkably serious treatment of Voodoo rituals and the ruins of slavery are wholly original. Frances Dee plays an innocent nurse hired to care for a sugar plantation owner’s somnambulant wife. “Everything seems beautiful because you don’t understand,” warns the husband on the initial voyage. Perhaps the most alluringly elliptical of Lewton’s RKO films, I Walked With a Zombie registers less as a linear narrative than as a collection of feverishly beautiful passages, each inching towards a suitably entrancing vision of death in life. The speechless sequence of Dee’s nurse leading the somnambulant woman through fields of sugar cane towards the drums of a voodoo ceremony is generally regarded as the pinnacle of Lewton’s style, with Jacques Tourneur’s graceful camera movements cutting through the reeds as if impelled by forces unseen. 

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The Glitter of Putrescence. Val Lewton at RKO

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