Tourneur. French-born Jacques Tourneur did his best work in the US. He’s the son of director Maurice Tourneur (who co-directed the 1920 The Last of the Mohicans which is really good amongst other things). Jacques’ 75 IMDB credits include a lot of TV and shorts— really his work comes down to four films—and that’s a weakness—even at slot #123 here on the best director of all-time list. However, all four of those films land in their decades’ top 100 — and they include some of Val Lewton’s best horror films and a masterpiece of film noir- Out of the Past. The use of shadow and lighting—what makes Tourneur a style-plus director—is also a (or the)  major reason both the noir and horror films he made are brilliant.

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shadows– Tourneur’s singular legacy- here in Cat People

Best film:  Out of the Past.  Tourneur and Lewton’s horror work has had a resurgence over the recent decades with film buffs and academics (being championed by Scorsese doesn’t hurt) but Out of the Past is still easily Tourneur’s best work. It has an almost ethereal, mythic quality that, no doubt, comes from his background in horror. When you pair that with Robert Mitchum walking on water here—you have an inarguable masterpiece.

Out of the Past has an almost ethereal, mythic quality that, no doubt, comes from his background in horror

total archiveable films: 4

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Out of the Past)

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Out of the Past, Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, Curse of the Demon)

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haunting imagery in I Walked With a Zombie – you’ll forget most of the narrative after seeing it, but not this image — Tourneur- a master of the silhouette

most overrated:  I don’t have a massive problem with it but Cat People at #540 might be a 100 to 150 slots overrated.

most underrated: The consensus and I are pretty closer here. TSPDT has 4 films from Tourneur in the top 1000—Out of the Past at #186, Cat People at #540, I Walked with a Zombie at #603 and Curset of the Demon at  #870.

an inspired surrealism sequence in Cat People

gem I want to spotlight:    Curse of the Demon. It is the least talked about (and lowest rated by critics) of Tourneur’s big four films but the work is top-shelf—it warrants more attention and study as these images clearly indicate.

a jaw-dropper shot from Curse of the Demon
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from Curse of the Demon— magnificent shot here

stylistic innovations/traits:  I’d need to read a biography on him or noir or the making of Out of the Past to study it close to see how it came to be but the idea of having the director of Lewton’s two strongest horror films direct a film noir is a stroke of genius. Style is largely about creating atmosphere and whether its noir (many have his as the greatest noir of all-time) or horror—few directors have created an atmosphere as well as Tourneur. He’s most notable for his use of lighting and shadow. There are films that are so well written and acted that anyone could direct them—but not Cat People or I Walk With a Zombie. If you take away Tourneur’s expressionistic use of lighting to create mood—these are not very good films.

shadows in I Walked With a Zombie — Tourneur’s take on German expressionism, Murnau and Nosferatu to great artistic success

top 10

  1. Out of the Past
  2. Cat People
  3. I Walked With a Zombie
  4. Curse of the Demon

By year and grades

1942- Cat People HR
1943- I Walked With a Zombie HR
1947- Out of the Past MP
1957- Curse of the Demon HR

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives