Monday, January 22, 2007

Val Lewton

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from an eye exam and, since I was still dilated and couldn’t read, decided to watch a movie instead. I was actually lucky enough to catch The Ghost Ship on TCM, a Val Lewton flick from the forties, which was once thought “lost”. Though the horrific aspects of the film were solely psychological and based on the derangement of an aging sea captain, it was still pure Lewton (there’s even a scene where the captain begins hearing voices before going on a homicidal rampage). I naturally wanted to re-watch some more of his films, but so far, I’ve only had time for Cat People (I Walked with a Zombie still remains cued up on the VCR). As I sat watching Cat People for the umpteenth time, it seemed so atmospherically and thematically similar to the Weird Tales magazines of the late thirties and early forties and reminded me that I had seen Lewton’s name in one my Weird Tales anthologies. I rummaged about my shelves and, sure enough, there’s a story of his called “The Bagheeta” in Marvin Kaye’s Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday Book & Music Clubs, 1988). The story appeared in the July 1930 issue and is a lovely folktale about a young man hunting a panther that has the ability to turn into a woman, seducing and killing her hunters. For those who have seen Cat People or The Curse of the Cat People this should sound somewhat familiar, but please, feel free to judge for yourself. The Val Lewton Screenplay Collection contains both the screenplay of Cat People and the “The Bagheeta”, as well as the screenplays of all the other Lewton films. It even has the American Weekly article that inspired I Walked with a Zombie. Strangely enough, though Lewton wrote several novels and a good deal of journalism, “The Bagheeta” is the only short story of his that I have been able to find so far.


Burntdisk said...

Amazon has seven novels, though a few are used. It would mean that you would have to...ack.. buy them though. Couldn't find any of his short stories in the list of usual suspects either. I do remember reading some of his stuff years back, and all I really remember is that it's fairly standard noirish pulp. What they called racy back then really isn't- look at D.H. Lawrence. I don't think most of his short stories were weird menace anyway, unlike Bagheeta. You could try his pen name- Carlos Keith.

If you do locate any, though, gimme a scream. I'll add it to the ever growing to read but not LIS list.

Mark said...

I'm going to keep my eyes peeled, but Lewton's contribution to film would outshine anything else he ever did, anyway. I just thought it was cool that he had a story published in WT.

Now, if you want weird menace that's truly racy, Bruno Fischer's your man (aka Russell Gray, aka Harrison Storm --I think I've mentioned him before in this blog). Here's a great example:

This one will make even you wince, I think.

Fischer also wrote a lot of detective stuff, including the Calvin Kane, the Crab Detective, stories.

Burntdisk said...

Thanx. Check that one tonight. Downloaded it. Looks suitably bad... I mean amusing.

The Crab Detective? Does that have anything to do with... um... ladies of the evening?

Mark said...

Actually, it's weirder (but more wholesome) than that. Calvin Kane was deformed and scuttled around just like a crab. His exploits appeared in Dime Detective.

Burntdisk said...

Sure he didn't have crabs?

Mark said...

From scuttling along men's room floors.