I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Film: I Walked with a Zombie
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray
Starring: Frances Dee, Tom Conway and James Ellison
This film begins showing two people walking on the beach and there is voiceover narration done by Frances Dee. The film then shifts to Dee as she is being interviewed for a position. This job is to take care of a sick woman. Dee gets the position and then learns that it is on an island in the Caribbean.
She is on a ship and admiring the view when a man tells her that it is not as beautiful as she thinks. He is played by James Ellison. He is quite negative, but she finds him to be good looking and listens to his reasoning. It isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that the scenery is breathtaking.
This man turns out to be the half-brother of the man in charge of the plantation. His brother is played by Tom Conway. He is the husband of the sick woman; she is played by Christine Gordon. Gordon is quite good looking, but she has been in a near comatose state. She is not dead, but does not speak. She can walk around, but needs to be escorted to where to go.
That night, Dee hears someone crying in the tower that Gordon is kept. She goes to check it out and meets Gordon. She does not answer, but continues to walk, trapping her. Dee screams out in fear and keeps trying to get away from her. This is when we meet the maid, who is played by Theresa Harris. We also meet Ellison and Conway’s mother, who is played by Edith Barrett. Barrett is somewhat of a nurse as well. Gordon also has a doctor on the island, who is played by James Bell.
Dee the next day apologizes to Conway for how she acted. He accepts it, but he does so in a stern way. Dee goes about caring for his wife. On her first day off, she goes into town where she meets up with Ellison by accident. They go to get drinks and we learn that Ellison has a drinking problem. We also learn that the cause of this from a local singer, played by Sir Lancelot. It turns out that Ellison and Gordon were in love, but Conway stole her away. Ellison is resentful for what happened, even more so for the condition she is in now. Dee then meets Barrett officially later that night when Ellison is too drunk and Barrett shows up at the bar.
The next day Dee suggests to Conway that whiskey not be kept at the dinner table, which he rebuffs her for asking. When it comes time though, the alcohol is not present. This makes Ellison upset and he accuses in a subtle way that there is something between Dee and Conway.
It does turn out that Dee has fallen for Conway, but in the way that she wants to save Gordon so they can be together. She approaches Bell about a treatment that could kill her, but also save her. Conway doesn’t want to hear it and won’t accept losing his wife. It is soon after that Harris tells Dee that there are people on the island who can save her, it is in the form of the voodoo priest on the island. They can hear the drums of their rituals every so often. Dee decides to take Gordon there to see if it will work.
Will Gordon return to her normal form? Is Gordon a zombie? Can it be reversed? What will happen between Ellison, Dee and Conway? Will this family be able to survive this situation?
From what I have gathered, this is one of the most popular pre-Night of the Living Dead zombie films that are out there. Now I bring this up, because Night is the first zombie film of re-animated corpses eating the flesh of people. This zombie is more of the technical term of dead person brought back to life by voodoo to be a mindless slave. Gordon really has a tough acting job of not saying anything, keeping a straight face of not understanding what is going around her and being believable. I would actually give her the most credit out of the cast. I think the rest of the cast did well in their performance. The story is also interesting and the concept of the zombie and if it can be cured is as well. The filmmakers did a nice job at building the fear through the location selected as also.
My biggest gripe with this film is that nothing really gets resolved. This legitimately took the rating down one number for me due to this. I understand that this film plays on the location for fear as well as voodoo and Gordon being a zombie. Now this might be growing up with the films that I did, but the fear was lacking for me. Going to the voodoo ritual and running into the African zombie was creepy, but much of the rest of the film was a subpar love story for me. Playing off this, I have a gripe with many of these films is the lack of a subplot. I understand that during this era of film, it was not necessary, but I do feel a film like this could have benefited from having at least one to strengthen the story.
Now with that said though, this film is still a classic and well done. The acting is good with Gordon being my favorite part for the job she did. The location of the does add to the horror of the film, but I was looking for more on top of that. The concept and story of this film was good, minus that it probably needed a subplot to enhance that aspect. If you want to see what zombie films were before the zombies we know now, then watch this film. This is probably the best in that category that I’ve seen thus far. Despite my issues with this film, it is still worth a viewing.
My Rating: 6 out of 10