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Old September 29th, 2014, 12:46 PM   #1
Inner Circle
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Favorite Lighting Scenes - The Seventh Victim

I'd like to share a favorite scene (lighting-wise) from a favorite film, The Seventh Victim (1943), a particularly dark film involving a cult and suicide from RKO B-movie producer, Val Lewton.

Here's the setup. A young woman (Mary) has gone to New York to look for her missing sister. An ambulance-chasing detective (Irving August) has volunteered to help. She prods the detective to go with her to break in to the cosmetics business that her sister recently owned.

The exterior shot is nothing special. It's dominated by a strong, hard key light. Once we get inside, things get interesting.

You can view the scene here:
Seventh Victim, The (1943) -- (Movie Clip) Which Room Is It?

First, consider the set. There is a corridor that establishes a foreboding destination. There are large glass surfaces - some clear, some frosted, and some clear with overlaid logos and text.

As the characters enter the room, medium light from through the glass shows them from the back as silhouettes, conveying danger. Mary turns to see a clock with a pendulum, establishing a tension-filled ticking sound.

When the POV changes to a front view, Mary's face is in soft light with a slight key from the side. August's face is in hard key, his black hat a silhouette over a window with hauntingly draped transparent curtains casting a ghostly shadow. As we look forward, a room along the hall is behind a frosted glass door and walls with mysterious, hard shadows cast by the equipment inside.

Mary: "Which room is it?"
August: "It's the last room at the end of the hall."

We look again down the hall and the final door is in total darkness.

Mary takes a few steps forward and she is now softly and beautifully lit from below. August, now standing next to her is harshly lit from the side.

August: "Scared?"
Mary: "Yes."
August: "Let's, let's get out of here."
(Medium closeup on) Mary: "No."

(After a few beats) Mary: "You could go on, Mr. August. You could open the door. I'd stay right here."

(Back to the wide shot) Mary: "It's only a little way, Mr. August."
August: "We can't stand here all night."
Mary: "You could go on and open the door."

August steps forward into Mary's low-mounted light, but it shines on him at a more acute angle, casting the flashlight-under-the chin, horror look.

We return to the view from behind Mary. She is in medium light. We only see the silhouette of August's legs walking slowly toward the dark door. "Tick, tick, tick." As Mary steps slowly backward, the shadow of the shop's name and logo appear across her back. The logo takes on a larger meaning later in the film.

A night watchman comes to the front door. Mary turns at the sound and sees the soft shadow of a walking man behind frosted glass. She turns to the clear glass of the next room and we see the beam of a flashlight, followed by the silhouette of the watchman as he walks away into the salon.

Mary, quickly and quietly goes forward to the camera to warn August. Before she arrives, the silhouette of August's back comes out of the room. (Cue the music.)

Mary: "Mr. August, the night watchman."

August walks slowly and steadily away from the final door and does not respond. As they walk, the pair transitions between light and shadow, with August's hat continuously in silhouette in front of the ghostly window.

Mary: "The night watchman. In the salon. Mr. August, what is it? What's the matter?"

We now see the pair from the front. August is holding his gut.

Mary: "Mr. August."

As Mary reaches to touch his shoulder, August falls to the ground. We see his arm. A small amount of blood trickles onto the floor.

Mary is now side lit in somewhat hard light including the logo/text shadow. She looks briefly forward and bolts from the building.

[End scene]

Considering that this was a cheap, b-movie, it's clear that this scene used a large part of the budget. The art direction, lighting, direction, execution, and editing are all exquisite. It's masterfully done and reminds me that equipment is only a minor part of visual story telling.

So, anybody else have some favorite lighting scenes to share and break down?
Jon Fairhurst
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Old October 2nd, 2014, 02:55 PM   #2
Inner Circle
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Camas, WA, USA
Posts: 5,457
Re: Favorite Lighting Scenes - The Seventh Victim

So, I'm curious. Was the above analysis interesting? Too much? Too little? To old a film?

I'm considering making other "favorite lighting scene" posts and it would be great to know if they are valuable or can be improved.

Jon Fairhurst
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