Auteur Theory: Val Lewton
151 - 002 | CCN: 31735
Producer Val Lewton oversaw the making of nine legendary horror films for RKO Studios in the 1940s. These films—Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, and Bedlam—constitute a remarkably coherent vision of cinematic horror that was a distinct departure from Universal Studios’ monster-centered horror franchises (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, Curse of the Werewolf) then dominating the industry. Lewton’s horror style came to be known as “fear by suggestion” among critics struggling to identify its subtle, shadowy, uncanny effects. These effects are closely related both formally and thematically to film noir, another innovative Hollywood genre emerging in the 1940s that reflected the trauma of the World War II and the alienating postwar experience in America. Though the Lewton Unit films were directed by three different men, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, and Mark Robson, all worked under Lewton’s guidance, as did the screenwriters, including DeWitt Bodeen, Curt Siodmak, and Ardel Wray. Lewton himself wrote the final drafts of all the screenplays but took no screen credit (except under the pseudonym “Carlos Keith”).
Considering a producer-as-auteur immediately calls into questions the founding tenet of “les politiques des auteurs” advocated by Cahiers due Cinema critics in the 1950s, that the director should be in sole creative control of the film. It becomes a useful means of interrogating “auteur theory” as developed and applied by critics, theorists, and audiences since that time.