The Seventh Victim

Released:  1943

Cast:  Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter

SUMMARY:  A young woman named Mary (Kim Hunter) is a longtime student at a girls’ boarding school:  after being orphaned as a child, she was raised by her older sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks), who now pays her tuition.  However, Mary is informed that the tuition has not been payed in six months, and Mary can no longer continue to stay there unless she works.  Mary is concerned about her sister, and decides to leave school and go to New York to look for her.  Her first stop is the cosmetics business her sister owns, but Jacqueline is not there:  in fact, Mary is shocked to learn that Jacqueline sold the business nearly a year ago, to a woman named Mrs. Redi.  One of the woman at the business, who was a friend of Jacqueline’s, tells Mary about a restaurant her sister liked, so Mary next goes there.  She learns that Jacqueline was renting an apartment in the building above the restaurant, but that she was never there.  Mary persuades the owners to open the room, and is horrified to see that the room contains only a noose hanging from the ceiling and a chair.  Mary next tracks down Jacqueline’s lawyer, Gregory Ward, who was also her boyfriend.  Ward is also looking for Jacqueline, and knows that a psychiatrist named Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) is somehow involved in the disappearance.  Later, he reveals to Mary that he and Jacqueline were actually married, and that Dr. Judd knows where Jacqueline is (though he will not disclose this information to anybody else, saying that Jacqueline is a patient in treatment).  Ward and Mary’s attempts to locate Jacqueline are not going well, but Mary receives an offer of free help from a private detective, Irving August.  August thinks there is something funny going on with the cosmetics company, so the two sneak in together one night.  August enters the only locked room as Mary waits, but several minutes later he staggers out, bleeding from stab wounds, and dies on the floor.  Mary flees the scene, but later as she is riding the subway she sees two men carrying August’s body.

At the restaurant below Jacqueline’s apartment (where Mary is also now renting), Mary is introduced to poet Jason Hoag, who also volunteers to help her find her sister.  Hoag has an in:  he is friends with Dr. Judd.  He goes to the library, where he researches the books both Dr. Judd and Mrs. Redi (the new owner of the cosmetics company) have recently taken out.  These books all relate to a satanic cult, called the Palladists, but Mary dismisses the theory.  However, Mrs. Redi realizes that the investigation is nearing the truth, and she visits Mary and tells her to go back to school for her own good.  She also tells Mary that Jacqueline is a murderer, having killed Irving August.  Ward is a lawyer, and believes that the best thing for Jacqueline would be to turn herself in to the police.  With Hoag’s help, they locate Judd and tell him about the murder; Judd agrees to take them to Jacqueline.  After retrieving her, the entire group returns to Hoag’s apartment, in the same building as Mary’s and Jacqueline’s.  Mary, helped by Judd, confesses that she was part of the Palladists, having joined them because several of her coworkers (including Mrs. Redi) belonged.  She eventually changed her mind and wanted out, and became so miserable that she went to a psychiatrist (Judd) for help.  She told him about the cult, which broke one of the cardinal rules of the cult:  the designated punishment for anybody who reveals the secret of the cult is death.  Ward decides that it would be best to let Jacqueline rest before taking her to the police, so she agrees to stay with Mary.  Only the next day, while Mary is at work, Jacqueline is seen leaving with two strange men.  These turn out to be members of the cult, who take Jacqueline back to their meeting place.  The cult condemns violence, so the group’s solution to Jacqueline’s sin is to make her drink poison.  Jacqueline refuses repeatedly, even as she grows more exhausted and thirsty.  Finally, the cult releases her, saying that another decision will have to be made.  Meanwhile, Ward and Mary are waiting at the apartment building for Jacqueline to return, and both confess that they love each other.  Jacqueline leaves the cult, but is followed by one of the members, who clearly intends to kill her.  She manages to get away from him and get back to the apartment building, but before she can join her sister, she meets another young woman who lives in the building.  This woman is terminally ill, and tells Jacqueline that she is afraid to die.  However, she is also tired of the fear and the waiting, and has decided to go out on the town.  A short time later, the woman leaves her apartment, all dressed up:  on her way past Jacqueline’s room, she hears a thud as Jacqueline hangs herself, but does not realize what has happened.

MY TAKE:  Once I figured out that there was a satanic cult thing going on in this movie, it started to remind me of Rosemary’s Baby.  Maybe that’s because you don’t see too many movies about satanic cults.  However, this time a young woman is trying to get away from the cult, rather than being drawn into one.  The thing that took me a while to figure out was that Judd wasn’t a bad guy.  I think he’s naturally sinister — he was the brother to George Sanders, famous villain of the Golden Age (All About Eve, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) and the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book — and there is a very strong resemblance between the two.  I just don’t trust him.  However, in this case, he was actually on the up-and-up.  I thought for a while that he had kidnapped Jacqueline, or was working with the cult, since he wouldn’t reveal her location, and seemed to be blackmailing Ward for money.  Later, I figured out that he was keeping her secluded for her own sake, as the cult had apparently driven her nutty:  the “blackmail” was the money needed to care for him, aka his fees.  He honestly was trying to help Jacqueline regain her sanity.  I also didn’t really catch on to the love thing between Ward and Mary.  Maybe this is because I was too preoccupied with the mystery, or maybe because I immediately wrote Ward off as a potential love interest, because he was married to Jacqueline.  However, I don’t think that the action between the two really strongly hinted at this, either.  It’s kind of like the whole subplot was an afterthought, thrown in there when the filmmakers realized that there wasn’t a love story in the movie.  The ending of the movie was really abrupt and rather disappointing:  Jacqueline goes through this whole thing where she refuses to drink poison, then escapes a hitman on the dark streets of New York — and then hangs herself when she gets home?  What kind of crap is that?  To top it off, things end right there, without revealing the reactions of anybody else, or what Ward and Mary did about their little illicit romance.  It was a suspenseful movie, albeit rather short (the buildup could have used more time, I think), but the ending was terrible.

P.S. Mary is played by Kim Hunter, in her first major role.  She’s more famous for her role as Vivien Leigh’s sister in A Streetcar Named Desire — she’s “STELLA!”

RATING:  Good right up until the end.

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