Jacques Tourneur


(Copyright © 2008 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Jacques Tourneur, uno dei grandi registi dell'horror, diresse Cat People (1942), storia di una modista slava che rifiuta di concedersi al marito perché teme una maledizione che colpisce tutte le donne della sua famiglia e che, quando cessano di essere vergini, le trasforma in felini omicidi; il marito si sfoga con un'altra, ma la moglie si tramuta in pantera e semina il terrore finché muore presso la gabbia delle pantere.

Leopard Man (1943)

In una cittadina esotica del New Mexico un gigolo`, Jerry Manning, prende in prestito dal saltimbanco Charlie un leopardo per far fare bella figura alla sua donna, la chanteuse Kiki, che e` sempre gelosa del successo di Chiquita, ballerina di flamenco. Il leopardo pero` fugge e la notte stessa sbrana una ragazza che tornava a casa. Manning e Kiki si sentono colpevoli dell'accaduto. La polizia e i volontari danno la caccia alla bestia, servendosi dei consigli di un esperto, Doug Galbraith, che e` venuto a dirigere il museo. Un'altra ragazza viene sbranata dal leopardo, ma Manning si insospettisce che la bestia sia rimasta in citta` invece che dileguarsi nei boschi. La ballerina, a cui l'amica chiromante ha fatto le carte ottenendo sempre cattivi presentimenti, e` la vittima successiva, proprio quando un ricco amico le aveva donato dei soldi per la sua bambina. Jerry e` tanto convinto che si tratti di un uomo e non del leopardo che decide di rinviare un viaggio e fermarsi in citta` a risolvere il mistero. E infatti Charlie trova la carcassa del leopardo, apparentemente morto da giorni. Qualcuno lo ha scuoiato per impossessarsi della pelle. Nella notte in cui una processione di incappucciati celebra un evento storico della zona, Jerry e Kiki tendono una trappola a Doug, e lui ci casca. A ucciderlo e` il fidanzato della prima vittima. Jerry non e` l'eroe positivo, e` un codardo, un fannullone e un gigolo` che trova la missione della sua vita. Fatalismo noir.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943, Tourneur)

Una giovane infermiera viene assunta da un ricco possidente, Paul, per accudire la moglie gravemente malata, Jessica. Paul e` un uomo freddo e altezzoso, odiato dal fratellastro Wes. I due, la madre e l'inferma vivono reclusi in un forte circondato dalla giungla in un'isola esotica. La prima notte la giovane, Betsy, viene spaventata dalla vista di Jessica in vestaglia che sale le scale della torre. Apprende cosi` che la donna non da` segni di vita, e` priva di emozioni, ma per il resto gode di salute normale. I servitori neri la introducono alle superstizioni voodoo del luogo. Ogni sera in cui si alza il vento lei sente i tamburi dei cerimoniali. Wes odia Paul perche' lo ritiene colpevole di cio` che accadde a Jessica. Betsy si innamora invece di Paul in quanto si accorge del dolore profondo che questi prova. Ma il suo amore la spinge a tentare di guarire Jessica. Decide di provare il voodoo e porta la disgraziata dai neri. Scopre pero` che il dottore voodoo a cui questi si affidano altri non e` che la madre dei due fratelli. Mentre loro parlano, un nero infila una spada nel braccio di Jessica: dalla ferita non esce sangue. Jessica e` una zombie.
La visita di Betsy dai neri accende gli animi. I neri adesso credono che Jessica sia una zombie e non si danno pace finche' non la guariscono. Paul non crede alle leggende, ma la madre gli confessa che Jessica mori` effettivamente ed e` sua la responsabilita` che sia stata trasformata in zombie. Wes invoca la morte per Jessica. Si capisce che Jessica e Wes stavano diventando amanti quando Jessica cadde malata, e Wes non si e` mai dato pace. Jessica adesso sente i richiami dei tamburi: i neri hanno fatto un pupazzo a sua immagine e somiglianza e lei risponde ai loro comandi. Una sera tenta di recarsi al cerimoniale. Paul chiude il cancello, ma Wes lo riapre e la accompagna. I neri infilzano il pupazzo con un ago, Wes uccide Jessica con una freccia. Poi porta il corpo alla spiaggia e si lascia avvolgere dalle onde finche' annega. I pescatori trovano i cadaveri e li riportano al forte.

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Out Of The Past (1947) is a film noir centered on a loner and a femme fatale. A rather boring, implausible and pointless story.

A mysterious man, Joe, drives into a small town and stops at a gas station to inquite about the owner. The owner, Jeff, is fishing at a lake with his fiance' Anne. Jeff is not happy to meet Joe. Joe invites him to a meeting with his boss. Jeff takes Anne with him and on the way to the meeting place, he tells her (in an Orson Welles-ian voice) the secret of his life, starting with his real name. He used to be a private detective, and one day was hired by a mobster to track down the woman who betrayed him and ran away with his money. When he found her in Mexico, he was fascinated by the attractive woman and decided to keep her for himself. Kathy told him that she never stole the money from the mobster. They started a happy life together, but one day Jeff's old partner showed up and blackmailed them; and she killed him. Then she took off, and he found out that she did have a bank account with the money that had been stolen. The story is over, and they have reached the meeting place. Anne drives back, while Jeff walks into the majestic villa. The mobster wants a job from him, and casually introduces Kathy, who has returned to him. Jeff accepts the new job, but senses that it's a set up: he is taken by another attractive woman to an attorney's home so as to leave his fingerprints around (he even tells the attorney so). Sure enough, the attorney is killed. Jeff cleans up the apartment and hides the body. Then he visits Kathy, accuses her of being part of the set-up and tells her that he tipped off the attorney who escaped. Kathy, scared, confesses, and tells him that the mobster wanted to get a briefcase from the attorney, and have Jeff be arrested for the murder. Now Jeff knows the motive (the briefcase) and takes off. Joe walks in and tells Kathy that he has indeed killed the attorney. She, who was still playing the part of the poor victim, realizes that he has only extorted from her the information about the briefcase. In fact, Jeff steals the briefcase and hides its content: files that would send the mobster to jail. He wants the gangsters to clear his name. The newspapers are carrying the story of the murder and that the suspect still at large is Jeff. Anne reads the newspaper in the small town. Joe tries to kill Jeff, but is killed. Jeff visits the mobster and Kathy. It turns out that Kathy had misled the mobster too: she has been lying to everybody to get what she wants, and she's the one who ordered Joe to kill Jeff. Jeff's only consolation is that Anne believes Jeff is innocent of the murder. But an old flame of Anne threatens Jeff: Jeff is not good enough for a simple girl like Anne. Back to the villa, Jeff finds that Kathy has killed the mobster. It's the perfect solution: now Jeff will be accused also of this murder, and he will never be able to prove that he is innocent of the attorney's murder. He is at her mercy. It turns out she doesn't want to destroy him, she wants him to follow her back to Mexico and start a new life. She also tells him that he is not good for the good town girl. He has no choice anyway. So she packs the money in her briefcase and the two of them leave in a car. But the villa is surrounded by the police, and she realizes that he has betrayed her. She kills him, and then the car crashes and kills her.

Berlin Express (1948) is instead an amateurish and implausible spy thriller in which Westerners fight a secret Nazi society. It has a didactic undertone: the four winning powers uniting to save a German. The film's only value is the images of a devastated Frankfurt after the war.

Just after World War II, the French accidentally intercept a secret message in German but they don't know what to do with it. It is actually the number of a train from Paris to Frankfurt. On that train four men from the four occupying powers that have won against Germany are travelling and get to meet: Robert from the USA, Perrot from France, a Russian soldier and Sterling from Britain. There is also the attractive secretary Lucienne who works for a German businessman, Franzen. At the station a German passenger is also allowed to board the train, Hans. One compartment is reserved for a mysterious guest, who turns out to be a German doctor who is the leader of a pacifist movement to reunite Germany. The doctor has just invited the others to a dinner in his compartment when a bomb kills him. They have just reached Frankfurt, a ghost town after the war bombings in which a cigarette is a treasure. A middle-aged man takes a tram to downtown and is recognized by an old woman in the street. The international passengers are taken to a USA base and interrogated. The USA investigators calls them one by one. When they call the inconspicuous German businessman, Franzen, we learn that he is the real doctor: the bomb killed a decoy. Lucienne is his secretary. Ironically, the other passengers dislike precisely this German. When they are all transferred to the train station, they ignore Franzen. An old man, approaches him, and Franzen recognizes him as his old friend Johann. Johann is upset by something. Seconds later they both disappear: Franzen has been kidnapped. Lucienne explains whom Franzen really was and begs the four men to help her find him because they are the only ones who know his face and his voice. Franzen is at Johann's place, guarded by the woman who recognized the middle-aged man. Johann confesses to Franzen that he helped the resistance kidnap his old friend Franzen because they promised to reunite him with his long lost life. However, the young insurgents tell him that his wife is dead. When Lucienne and the men find Johann, he has just hanged himself. On a hunch, Robert and Lucienne visit a cabaret where they witness the show of the sexy mind-reader Maya. Through her they reach the group that is holding Franzen, whose leader is the man of the tram. Robert escapes, helped by a clown who has infiltrated the group, but is captured and Lucienne thinks he is killed. The clown runs away wounded and dies in a cabaret, where the authorities identify him as Hans, a German agent who was assigned to protect the doctor. Hans has time to tell them where Franzen is held. The group is quickly surrounded by the occupation forces and defeated. Perrot corners the leader and coldly kills him after revealing that he is his boss. The others, unaware, congratulate him for killing the leader of the gang. On the train to Berlin, where the doctor is to attend a peace conference, Robert begins to doubt Perrot's actions: he lied about his knowledge of the German language, and he knew the bomb was a grenade even before the experts figured it out. The others ignore Robert's suspicion. Then Robert sees reflected in another train the scene of Perrot trying to strangle the doctor (the only impressive shot of the film) and enters the doctor's compartment just in time. Perrot is shot dead by a guard and the doctor arrives safely at his conference, while the others can finally continue their trip. In the last scene Robert tries to reach out to the Russian, who has never truly mingled with the others (a metaphor for avoiding the Cold War).

Nightfall (1956), adapted from David Goodis's 1947 novel, is a film noir in the vein of Out Of The Past. The story is told in a rather hysterical manner, with abrupt scene shifts. The plot is like a disjointed puzzle that slowly reveals itself as the pieces are added up.

A man, Jim, is walking around town after dark. He is briefly approached by a stranger who asks him for a cigarette. In a bar Jim meets a woman, Marie (Anne Bancroft), who begs him to loan her money because she has lost her wallet. In the meantime the stranger arrives home to his wife and we learn that he, Ben, is an insurance investigator who is tailing Jim. Back at the bar Marie is nice and Jim invites her to dinner. Then as they walk outside, suddenly two men approach them. The woman was hired by them to bring Jim to them. And they call him Ray, not Jim. The two thugs take Jim/Ray out of town, to an abandoned oil derrick, to torture him unless he tells them what they want to know. The two gangsters want to know where a huge sum of money is: Ray claims he doesn't know where it is. In the meantime the insurance investigator Ben tells his wife that there is enough evidence against Ray to send him to the electric chair, but they first need to find the money. Ben has been following Ray for three months. He knows Ray's every habit. And he is beginning to have doubts that Ray committed the crime alone. A flashbach shows Ray hunting in the mountains with his best friend, an older doctor. Ray is a good, honest man. The doctor tells him abut his wife, twenty years younger than him, and, aware that she is too young for himself, seems to offer her to Ray. Suddenly they witness a car accident. They rush to the site and help the two men who were in the car: the very same two thugs. One has a broken arm that the doctor fixes temporarily. Far from being grateful, the two thugs pull out a gun, take Ray's car and discuss where to kill the two dangerous witnesses. Back to the oil derrick the thugs are ready to finish Ray when he finds a way to escape. He has Marie's address and heads to her apartment. She tells him that she thought the two thugs were police officers hunting down a dangerous criminal. Realizing that she is in danger as much as himself, Ray tells her to get dressed and flee with him. While she is getting dressed, he tells her the story of what happened in the mountains: how the two thugs told them that they had just robbed a bank and then killed the doctor in cold blood and wounded Ray making it look like it was an argument between Ray and the doctor in which each killed the other. Then they picked up the doctor's bag thinking it was their bag and left. Back to Marie's apartment, Ray and Marie flee just in time before the thugs arrive. As the thugs search Marie's apartment we learn that Marie is a fashion model. Ray and Marie hide in Ray's apartment, that is spied day and night by Ben. Seeing Ray with a woman, Ben feels that he was right to suspect that Ray had an accomplice. Ray tells Marie what happened on the mountain after the thugs left. They left him for dead, but he was only wounded. He picked up the bag, realized that was full of money, and walked away, knowing that the thugs would come back looking for him. When they found out that the doctor's wife had written love letters to Ray (that's why the doctor was offering him his wife), the police determined that Ray had killed the doctor and started a manhunt. Ray had to run away from both the police and the gangsters, changing name to Jim and moving from town to town (and not knowing that the insurance investigator was his real nemesis). When Ray goes to the bus station to buy two tickets for the mountains, Ben does the same. Then Ray has to rescue Marie from the thugs at a fashion show. The two (who are now lovers) board the bus and think that they ran away, but Ben is on the same bus. Ben approaches Ray and believes in his version of the story. The two drive to the shack where Ray hid the money, but the thugs have preceded them and they already captured Marie. Luckily the thugs turn on each other. One is killed. Ray grabs the gun of the dead one and chases the other one into a snow plower. They fight. The gangster is run over and mauled by the snow plower.

Curse of the Demon (1958), adapted from Montague James' "Casting the Runes" (1911), is one of the best horror movies of the time, directed in the style of Val Lewton at the fast pace of the best detective movies.

A distraught man drives late at night through a forest to a secluded mansion. He is a professor and frantically begs the owner, a doctor, to call off their public fight, admitting that the doctor was right. The professor apologizes that a parchment written in ancient runic language burned. The doctor wants privacy for himself and "his followers". The professors promises and drives home reassured. Suddenly he sees a white cloud approaching in the sky that takes the shape of a giant monster. Frightened, he tries to drive away but crashes the car against a powerline pole and dies a horrible death, electrocuted by the electrical wires. In the mansion the doctor burns a newspaper that talks about a devil cult that he is accused of running and that should be exposed at a forthcoming conference on the supernatural.
A USA psychologist, John, is flying on a plane and trying to catch some sleep. At the airport he is welcome by an assistant to the professor, Lloyd. Before the assistant has time to tell him of the tragedy, the reporters surround the psychologist and ask him questions about the conference. Another passenger, an attractive lady, tries to phone the residence of the professor. At the professor's home the assistant introduces John to a coworker of the dead professor, Mark, who shows him the drawing of the devil made by a former cult member who is now in custody for a murder and who has fallen into a catatonic state. Mark is a scientist too but has come to believe that the devil committed the murder. John is surprised, as the whole point of the conference is to disprove the phony supernatural powers of the cult. He is introduced to an Indian professor, who flatly states that he believes in the supernatural.
John visits the museum and asks for a rare volume, but it is mysteriously missing. The doctor is standing nearby, overhears the conversation, and offers John a copy of the rare volume. The doctor is friendly, while John is hostile and promises to continue the investigation. The doctor hands him a business card. John reads a warning on it, but then the writing disappears. Back home with Mark and the Indian, John realizes that he keeps humming a tune. Both Mark and the Indian recognize it as an hymn to the devil in both the Irish and Indian cultures. Mark also notices that all of the pages in John's desk calendar after the 28th have been torn out. John visits a laboratory and asks them to analyze the business card: he is still puzzled that the writing disappeared. He then pays tribute to the dead professor at the funeral home and meets the professor's pretty niece, Joanna: the fellow traveler that he never realized was on the same plane (in fact, the seat behind his) and that tried to call the professor from the airport. She warns him that he is in danger. She found her uncle's diary and reads passages to John. The uncle had come to believe that a parchment with runic symbols contained a curse from the doctor. Having learned that the body was mutilated, she is determined to find out the truth about his death, and scolds John for refusing to look into witchcraft. The laboratory calls and tells John that there never was any handwriting on the business card. John invites Joanna to visit the doctor's mansion. In the garden a magician is entertaining a group of children: it's the doctor himself. He looks and sounds harmless, but then he invokes a strong wind and John witnesses a strong tornado that scares the children away. The doctor suddenly turns hostile and gives John only three days to live, until the 28th. Later he tells Joanna, and Joanna reads more of her uncle's diary: the professor too had found all the pages of his desk calendar torn out, and he had died on the day of the last page. John reads on, and finds out that, according to the professor, the doctor's curse was in the form of a parchment with runic symbols: once given to someone, this person's only chance to survive would be to give it to someone else. John sarcastically tells Joanna that he never accepts gifts from strangers. But Joanna guesses that the doctor may have given him something without John realizing it: sure enough John finds a parchment with runic symbols in his briefcase, and the parchment flies away towards the fireplace as if it was trying to get burned, but is saved by the fireplace grate. John puts the parchment in his wallet. John visits Stonehenge and finds the runic symbols inscripted on one of the monoliths. Joanna takes John to a seance. John thinks it's ridiculous, but the medium assumes the voice of the dead professor and warns John against the demon, declaring that the doctor was successful in translating the rare volume on witchcraft. John, thinking it an hoax, leaves the room. John is finding scientific explanations for everything, but Joanna, a kindergarten teacher, feels that he is in danger: it is the eve of the 28th.
At night John and Joanna drive to the gate of the mansion. John wants to find evidence that the doctor is a charlatan, Joanna wants to convince him that the curse is real. John jumps the wall, walks through the forest to the mansion, and climbs into a room. In the library he finds the translation. Then the cat turns into a leopard and attacks him. Awakened by the noise, the doctor walks in and would like to escort the visitor out but John prefers to go back through the woods. There he is chased by a white cloud. Shaken by all these unexplainable events, he accepts Joanna's suggestion to talk to the police, but there is nothing the cops can do. Later someone kidnaps Joanna. The following day (it's the 28th) John leaves for the conference with his fellow scientists. At the conference they awaken the cult member who had fallen into a catatonic state, and then hypnotize him, Under hypnosis the man says that he was given a parchment and therefore was condemned to die. He reveals that there is one way to survive: return the parchment to the sender. He then escapes and jumps from a window to his death. John realizes that he has to return the parchment to the doctor before it's too late. The Indian professor tells him that the doctor's mother has called to asked them to stop her evil son and that he's boarding a train. John rushes to the train station and boards the same train. He finds the doctor with is hostage: a hypnotized Joanna, who tells John that the doctor is running away from him. John confesses that now he believes, and tries in vain to return the parchment to the doctor. There are only five minutes left before his appointment to death. The cops have been following the doctor based on Joanna's accusations and intervene when they hear the two men arguing. The doctor decides to get off the train but John manages to drop the parchment into a pocket of his coat. The doctor pulls it out and the parchment flies out. The doctor chases it like a madman: there are only two minutes left. The doctor jumps off the train and runs after the parchment that is rolling on the railtracks. The time is over: the parchment self-ignites and a huge white cloud appears, carrying the giant monster. Trying to escape, he falls in front of a train and is mauled to death by the demon. The train's engineer swears that the train did not hit him, but they found a mutilated body and decide that the doctor must have been hit by the train. John and Joanna agree that it's better not to know the truth.

Frontier Rangers (1959) was a historical western about an expedition through the Northwest territory.

Comedy of Terrors (1963) is instead a satirical burlesque with Boris Karloff making his self-parody.

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