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Val Lewton is a deeply respected hero of American cinema, but his works are best appreciated without scholars telling you why Lewton's contributions are so important. To begin with, it's disrespectful to the directors of Lewton's films to have film historians waxing on about every detail and crediting Lewton almost exclusively, as if he was the director. In the event that you never noticed before, Hollywood is collectively its own biggest fan. Watching Turner Classic Movies on a regular basis will expose you to film experts and movie people gushing over past works as if God himself, or perhaps they were interim Dr. Frankensteins acting as proxy creators. Martin Scorsese is almost as well known for his embellishments on the topic as he is for his own pictures.
"Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows" is a library of prose praising the visual style, the dialog, the lighting, the mood -- attributes normally credited to the director, as if the actual directors of these films were merely showing up and collecting a check while Lewton commandeered every job on and off the set. The fault is, as noted before, the self-referential adoration from the industry itself of its own offspring. Imagine for a moment having to hear such praise of one's work from carpenters, mechanics, teachers, civil servants, construction crews...it would be appalling to be subjected to poetic essays on the greatness of their jobs which are, truth be known, of much greater significance to society as a whole.
The moral of the story: the entertainment industry needs to get over itself, do its job and go home. The single benefit of this production is that the films highlighted can be looked at as more detailed trailers, even though the films represented are quite a bit overstated. Let movies entertain you and forget the idea that experts need to teach you how to enjoy them.
Storm Center (1956)
A film about censorship of books and why it's wrong is a noble concept. Aside from a grossly exaggerated child character who loves reading and his misguided father who doesn't understand, the first act led me to believe I was in for a juicy potboiler that was somehow lost in the Columbia vaults. I wish.
"Storm Center" is contrived and manipulative propaganda done in the most sensationalist, cartoon-like manner conceivable. The climax almost looks like a satire and is even more hokey than the red scare films it was clearly attempting to counter. This was really just Hollywood attempting to dumb down their vision of the blacklisting scandal so that even the mere dummy general public could see the evil of hatin' on commies. It didn't work. Further, the theme of book burning is used to 'subliminally' rail against McCarthyism -- they really have nothing in common, so the story sets up the offensive book in question about Communism, which allows the film to haphazardly leave its bread crumbs.
The screenplay is terrible and despite a whole lot of good talent in the cast, they are too often directed to perform on the same level as the script. (ie, Bette Davis' closing speech, Kevin Coughlin's performance after his remarkable change of personality, etc.) The entire subplot of Davis' librarian being a buddy to all the neighborhood kids is unrealistic and calculated.
I suppose it's worth watching if you have an interest in any of the cast; a number of TV character actors also appear, like Edward Platt (Get Smart) and Joseph Kearns (Dennis the Menace.) But the main interest should be to see hyperbolic melodrama at its most vacuous.