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Val Lewton

Pic producer paragons

Born in Yalta and the nephew of actress Alla Nazimova, Lewton was a precocious novelist hired by David Selznick as a story researcher. Selznick horrified Lewton, but he survived and went to RKO, where he made his name as the creative producer in a series of horror/suspense pictures, where the cause of dread was seldom seen — all short, all low in budget, involving directors like Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise. It was an approach that still has its place in enterprising filmmaking. In times of waste and extravagance, Lewton should have a statue — in the old poverty row area — for “Cat People,” “I Walked With a Zombie,” “The Leopard Man,” “The Seventh Victim” and so on. The statue should stand, night and day, in a tight pool of accented darkness. He knew that “movie” was another word for atmosphere.

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