Man in the Shadow1957/I

One of the great and mysterious figures in Hollywood history is revealed in Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a fine profile narrated and "presented" by Martin Scorsese. Lewton was the producer whose low-budget unit at RKO in the forties displayed "the most sensitive movie intelligence in Hollywood," according to the esteemed critic James Agee. He served his apprenticeship as David O. Selznick's assistant, and even suggested the famous scene at the Atlanta depot in Gone With the Wind (although Lewton actually assumed Selznick would never shoot such an elaborate scene). At RKO, Lewton achieved greatness despite his imposed restriction: the studio would give him vulgar, exploitable titles--Cat People, say, or I Walked with a Zombie--and then Lewton and his crew would make smart, visually gorgeous movies out of them. Lewton doesn't seem to have left behind a huge amount of colorful biographical anecdotes (or even that many photographs), but writer-director Kent Jones has done a splendid job of blending biographical info with film appreciation. Copious and well-chosen clips give eloquent evidence of the poetry in Lewton's approach (aided and abetted by such talented collaborators as directors Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca). These sorts of documentaries invariably have a few spoilers contained within, and anyway you'll enjoy it more if you've already seen Lewton's movies. After you've seen The Seventh Victim and Curse of the Cat People, movies that shimmer with a grown-up sense of mystery, check out this movie to look even deeper into the shadows. It's available as an individual title, and as part of the essential set, The Val Lewton Horror Collection. --Robert Horton

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