Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

“See this strange, strange story of a woman whose lure set brother against brother; whose love caused hate—and whose beauty bowed to the will of an evil spell in whose power we must refuse to believe— EVEN IF IT'S TRUE!”

“The blackest magic of voodoo keeps this beautiful woman alive...yet DEAD!”

“She's alive... yet dead! She's dead... yet alive!”

“Who said the dead don't fuck?”

Darby Jones plays this tall sexy zombie Carrefour in Val Lewton’s controversial I Walked With a Zombie—directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by Curt Siodmak.

Lewton’s racy theme of Interracial Supernaturalism and Voodoo Romance certainly made the movie extremely risque back then—enough to fascinate modern jaded moviegoers even now more than half a century later. Why pray tell?

Francis Dee plays this young innocent Canadian nurse who sails to the West Indies to care for Jessica, the zombie wife of a plantation master, Tom Conway. Christine Gordon plays the role of Jessica who lives the living death of a woman voodoo dispossessed—but not only that. She’s in love with Darby Jones—this tall handsome zombie stud who’s carrying on a not so occult love affair with her. It’s Zombie Love—way ahead of its time.

Much more stylish and risque—than My Baby Is Black!!!(1965). Or later black exploitation flicks like Blacula (1972) with its hair-raising sequel Scream Blacula Scream (1973) starring legendary Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) who has the power to deep-six his 12-inch reign of terror. William Marshall takes the role of Darby Jones into bloodthirsty noble African Voodoo realms hithertofore unthought of by movie audiences since Lewton’s lewd imagination first came up with the idea of Carrefour—the Prince of Darkness!!! Interracial romance and lewd drums in the night—what’s going on in this movie I Walked with a Zombie anyway?

Like The Cat People—Old World sexuality and lewd occult worship seem to be playing a very intense role in I Walked With a Zombie. Since Lewton made millions with the RKO thriller The Cat People, he could pretty much do what he wanted to do with this zombie movie. With a script by Siodmak and a director like Tourneur—no wonder we get this film noir titillating thriller about interracial romance and tragedy. It could only happen in the West Indies on a sugar plantation—never in the Deep South on a cotton plantation. Although not that I know of—although the Decadent South is capable of anything, my dears.

The key scene is Sandra Dee and Christine Gordon slithering thru the nefarious night in white ghost-like silk evening gowns out of Dracula—working their way thru the darkness thru spooky cane fields lured by the sound of voodoo drums and unspeakable erotic ceremonies. Only to encounter Darby Jones—standing nude at the crossroads guarding the path to the shameless native party going on deep in the West Indies night.

Darby Jones was typecast early beginning with his first movie Tarzan the Fearless (1933) as Anga the Head Bearer—then later playing various tall silent types in films like Queen of the Jungle (1935), Diamond Jim (1935), as Bomba in Tarzan Escapes (1936), as Black Santa Claus in Swing High, Swing Low (1937), as Duckfoot the Stableboy in Kentucky (1938), as the Witch Doctor in Congo Maisie (1940), as Darby in White Cargo (1942), as Kolanga the Zombie in Zombies on Broadway (1945), as the Native Chief in Queen of the Amazons (1947), as the Masai Warrior in The Macomber Affair (1947), as the Batsuma Chief in Rope of Sand (1949), as Keega in Zimba the Gorilla (1949), as Chief Talim in 2 episodes on Ramar of the Jungle (1953) (“Drums of Doom” and “Evil Trek”), and finally as the Wine Steward in Something of Value (aka Africa Ablaze) (1957).

But that scene at the crossroads at night in I Walked With a Zombie—with the wind oozing and whispering in the dead trees thru the long rows of tall sugar cane reaching up to the humid yellow sweaty full moon shining down at midnight… That scene has got to be the primal-scene that stirred my youthful decadent imagination way back when.

It sent goosebumps up and down my spine—desperately wanting to be Jessica or Sandra Dee standing there in front of the 7-foot dark sleek Carrefour. Talk about being hung at the crossroads—isn’t that where they hang rapists and murderers? But with Carrefour—he was already dead. Dead and hung—ask Sandra Dee!!!

The Plantation was abuzz—Tom Conway, his mother, his brother and all the local people in town were in a state of shock too. They say once you’ve gone black—there’s no turning back. And that’s what Jessica apparently did—she went all the way. And didn’t come back. She’d gone head over heels for Darby Jones—she’s been transformed into a Dinge Queen. What a challenge for American moviegoing audiences—back then in the pre-integration days of 1943!!! Even now—the idea of black & white explicit Voodoo Love is controversial—although more acceptable in Northern big cities like Chicago & NYC.

I shan’t go into what happened back then at the crossroads deep in the cane field that shameless night—other than to say that both Jessica and Sandra Dee got more than they expected during that rendezvous with the uncanny Carrefour. Who said the dead don’t fuck? It was a night of the living dead—that will “go down” in Hollywood Babylon cinematic history. I only wish I were there!!!

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