The private school is the orphanís chrysalis, Mark Robson sketches the lines separating sanctuary and mausoleum expressively: Stained glass and opera tryouts over a flight of steps, Kim Hunter walking against the deluge of departing schoolgirls. She enters the outside world to the tune of "Nautilus" ("Build thee more stately mansions O my soul"), Val Lewtonís Greenwich Village is a place of poets and shadows, her sister has vanished. A neighborhood tavern named Danteís offers gigantic Italianate frescos and, upstairs, the missing womanís vision of happiness: a bare room with a hangmanís noose dangling and ready. Brother-in-law Hugh Beaumont joins Hunterís search, conspiracy is hinted at the Missing Persons Bureau, heightened at a deserted subway ride, and confirmed at a secret society meeting. The celebrated shower shot is prepared by an earlier image, no less unsettling, of medical apparatus silhouetted from outside a hospital room, out of which a wizened private eye (Lou Lubin) wanders with a punctured stomach. Lewtonís masterstroke isn't in anticipating Polanskiís cosmopolitan Satanists, but rather in weaving them with alarming directness into an universe of bohemians and eccentrics where everybody struggles with Thanatos their own way: The devil-worshippers may be bathed in sinister lighting when shamed by the Lordís Prayer, but really, how different are they from the poet (Erford Gage) who looks at the searchlight in the sky and sees a sword slicing the moon? The Cat People strand is continued in key casting (Tom Conway reprises the psychiatrist cad, feline woman Elizabeth Russell is a tubercular dweller challenging fate), but where oppressed sexuality was Tourneurís phantom, Robson here deals with the pull of the Reaper. The sister (Jean Brooks) is finally revealed as a Cleopatra-haired sleepwalker lost in a private danse macabre, like Gibranís "bride of Death standing like a column of light between the bed and the infinite." The filmís astonishing final movement sends her to her room as her dying neighbor steps out to the streets, different roads ("staircases," Conway says) for venturing into the night. With Isabel Jewell, and Evelyn Brent. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce