I have to give a plug to the folks at The Secret History of Hollywood.
I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to podcasts of their comprehensive, 6-part documentary on the life and career of an under-appreciated cinematic genius, Val Lewton.
After a lengthy apprenticeship to David O. Selznick, in 1942 Val Lewton was lured away by RKO Pictures to head up a new department specializing in horror movies. RKO had nearly gone broke backing Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” and their board yearned to emulate the success Universal Pictures was having with their stable of movie monsters.
Lewton had little interest in producing such lowbrow fare as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman”, etc. but all of his life had retained a taste for the macabre. Working with a team of collaborators that included, at various points, Jacques Tourneur, Mark Robson, Nicholas Musuraca, DeWitt Bodean, Ardel Wray and Robert Wise, Lewton reinvented horror cinema, employing shadows and “dark patches” with skill and inventiveness. During his tenure at RKO, he produced modestly budgeted gems like “Cat People”, “I Walked With A Zombie”, “The Seventh Victim” and “Ghost Ship”.
“Shadows: The Val Lewton Story” is diligently researched, vividly presented. Mark Gatiss does a magnificent job as narrator, but the entire production is a credit to all involved.
This podcast gets my highest possible recommendation.
You can find the first episode here.
This series of one of the finest podcasts I’ve yet encountered, a testament to the power of that medium.