AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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I Walked with a Zombie
Director: Jacques Tourneur (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Apr 1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 21 Apr 1943
Production Date:   26 Oct--19 N0v 1942
Duration (in mins):   68-69
Duration (in feet):   6,171
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Cast:   James Ellison (Wesley Rand)  
    Frances Dee (Betsy Connell)  
    Tom Conway (Paul Holland)  
    Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand)  
    James Bell (Dr. Maxwell)  
    Christine Gordon (Jessica Holland)  
    Theresa Harris (Alma)  
    Sir Lancelot (Calypso singer)  
    Darby Jones (Carre Four)  
    Jeni Le Gon (Dancer)  
    Richard Abrams (Clement)  
    Martin Wilkins (Hougan)  
    Jieno Moxzer (Sabreur)  
    Arthur Walker (Ti Joseph)  
    Kathleen Hartsfield (Dancer)  
    Clinton Rosemond (Coachman)  
    Alan Edmiston (Mr. Wilkins)  
    Norman Mayes (Hayard)  
    Melvin Williams (Baby)  
    Vivian Dandridge (Melese)  

Summary: Betsy Connell, a Canadian nurse, recounts the curious circumstances under which she "walked with a zombie": Hired to care for Jessica Holland, the wife of Paul Holland, the owner of a sugar plantation in the Caribbean, Betsy sails from Canada to Antigua, where she is met by Paul and escorted to the island of St. Sebastian. As they sail to their destination, Betsy's dreams of island beauty are shattered by Paul, who cautions her that the beauty surrounding them masks death and decay. At the St. Sebastian dock, Betsy is met by a carriage from Fort Holland, whose driver tells her the story of how the Hollands brought the slaves to the island and explains that the statue of "T-Misery" in the Hollands' courtyard comes from the masthead of a slaveship. At dinner that night, Betsy is joined by Wesley Rand, Paul's half-brother, who informs her that their mother, Mrs. Rand, runs the village dispensary. While getting ready for bed, Betsy hears a woman's sobs coming from across the courtyard and goes to investigate. Following the sobs to a tower stairwell, Betsy begins to ascend the stairs when she is cornered by the cataliptic figure of Jessica Holland. After Betsy screams for help, Paul comes to the tower and puts Jessica to bed. The next morning, Paul upbraids Betsy for her childish behavior and warns her not to heed the island superstitions. Betsy then meets Jessica's physician, Dr. Maxwell, who explains that his patient's zombie-like condition is caused by an incurable tropical fever. On Betsy's day off, Wesley accompanies her to the village, and while he drinks himself into a stupor, a calypso singer performs a song about Paul and Wesley's rivalry for Jessica's love. After Wesley passes out, Mrs. Rand comes to the table and arranges to have him taken back to Fort Holland. That night, the distant drums of a voodoo ritual underscore the harsh words exchanged by Paul and Wesley over dinner. Later, Betsy is drawn to the sound of Paul playing the piano. When he sees her approach, Paul apologizes for bringing her to the island and admits to driving his wife mad. After their discussion, Betsy realizes that she has fallen in love with Paul and determines to make him happy by curing Jessica. Betsy administers insulin shock to Jessica, and when the treatment fails, Paul comforts her, prompting Wesley to accuse him of falling in love with his wife's nurse. When Alma, Jessica's maid, suggests that the voodoo priest might be able to cure Jessica, Betsy questions Mrs. Rand about the power of voodoo, but the older woman advises her against it. Ignoring Mrs. Rand, Betsy decides to take her patient to the voodoo priest, and Alma draws her a map to the "Home Fort." That night, Betsy leads Jessica through billowing fields of cane, past animal sacrifices and to the crossroads guarded by the towering zombie-like figure of Carre Four, the voodoo god. Finally reaching the village, Betsy enters a shack to consult with the voodoo priest. Inside, she is astounded to discover that the priest is none other than Mrs. Rand. After explaining that she uses voodoo to convince the natives to accept standard medical practices, Mrs. Rand tells Betsy that Jessica can never be cured, and Betsy takes her charge back to the house. The natives, inflamed by the presence of Jessica, intensify their rituals, intent upon drawing her back to the Home Fort. As the native drums pound, Paul admits that he is fearful of demeaning and abusing Betsy as he did Jessica, and asks her to return to Canada. That night, Betsy is awakened by the looming shadow of Carre Four and she runs to Paul's room for help. Mrs. Rand then appears and orders Carre Four to leave the Holland complex. The next day, Maxwell comes with the bad news that the native unrest has sparked an inquest into Jessica's illness. Mrs. Rand responds that Jessica is not sick but a zombie, a member of the living dead. Mrs. Rand explains that when she discovered that Jessica was planning to run away with Wesley, she put a curse on her, turning her into a zombie. Maxwell refuses to accept her explanation, however, and insists that Jessica is a victim of tropical fever. That night, the drums beat ominously as Jessica shuffles from the house to the front gates. Wesley, obsessed with freeing Jessica from her zombie-like state, opens the gates, pulls an arrow from the statue of T-Misery and follows her. Compelled to mimic the hand of a voodoo worshipper stabbing a doll with a pin, Wesley thrusts the arrow into Jessica and carries her into the sea as Carre Four follows, staring blindly into the night. Later, the natives discover the bodies of Jessica and Wesley floating in the surf and carry them back to Fort Holland, where Paul comforts Betsy. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Jacques Tourneur (Dir)
  William Dorfman (Asst dir)
Producer: Val Lewton (Prod)
  Lou Ostrow (Supv)
Writer: Curt Siodmak (Scr)
  Ardel Wray (Scr)
  Inez Wallace (Based on an orig story)
Photography: J. Roy Hunt (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Walter E. Keller (Art dir)
Film Editor: Mark Robson (Ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Al Fields (Set dec)
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
  Roy Webb (Mus)
Sound: John C. Grubb (Rec)
Make Up: Maurice Seiderman (Makeup)
Country: United States

Songs: "Fort Holland Calypso Song," words and music by Sir Lancelot.
Composer: Sir Lancelot

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 6/3/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP11897

PCA NO: 8949
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre: Psychological
 
Subjects (Major): Caribbean
  Infidelity
  Nurses
  Romantic rivalry
  Voodoo
  Zombies
 
Subjects (Minor): Canadians
  Curses
  Drunkenness
  Half brothers
  Inquests
  Mothers and sons
  Physicians
  Plantations
  Superstition
  Women priests

Note: Actress Theresa Harris' first name is misspelled "Teresa" in the onscreen cast credits. The film opens with Betsy's voice over-narration "I walked with a zombie, it all began in such an ordinary way..." According to a 21 Oct 1942 HR news item, Anna Lee was initially slated to play "Betsy," but was forced to withdraw because of a previous commitment. Although RKO production records add Rita Christiani to the cast, her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A mid-Nov 1942 HR news item noted that the studio was forced to eliminate five days of location shooting because of proposed gas rationing. According to a Feb 1943 HR news item, because of the success of Cat People , the Val Lewton production released just prior to this film, I Walked with a Zombie was to be rented not on a flat rate, which was the custom for low-budget "B" films, but on a percentage of the box office, as was the practice with higher-budgeted "A" films. I Walked With a Zombie served as the inspiration for the 2001 RKO production Ritual , directed by Avi Nesher and starring Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, and Daniel Lapaine. This loose remake, which credits Wallace's story and the Siodmak-Wray screenplay, is also known as Tales From the Crypt Presents: Revelation

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   20 Mar 1943.   
Daily Variety   16 Mar 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Mar 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Oct 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Dec 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Mar 43   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   30 Mar 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   20 Mar 43   p. 1214.
New York Times   22 Apr 43   p. 31.
Variety   17 Mar 43   p. 23.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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