I Walked With a Zombie (1943) – Episode 42

Christine Gordon - I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Christine Gordon – I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

But it was once the figurehead of a slave ship. That's where our people came from. From the misery and pain of slavery. For generations they found life a burden. That's why they still weep when a child is born and make merry at a burial...

I Walked With a Zombie (1943) is based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. This is a well-acted zombie movie with a lot of folklore included.

Rough Script I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follows the links to social media in the podcast show notes. Today is the second of our October 2015 horror movies. Episode 42 I Walked with a Zombie (1943) is a classic zombie film when measured on any scale. Producer Val Lewton didn’t like the ending of the Inez Wallace optioned story “I Walked With a Zombie” believing it to be clichéd. Lewton adapted to script to the story Jane Erye by Charlotte Brontë. The legal disclaimer for the film states: “The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or possessed, is purely coincidental.” With that, I will jump right into the characters.

James Ellison was cast in the role of Wesley Rand. Ellison was born in Iowa in 1910 but grew up on a Montana Ranch. He would use the skills he learned on the ranch in his numerous western roles. When his family moved to Hollywood he took up an interest in acting which eventually lead him to the Pasadena Playhouse and to New York.

When Ellison returned to Los Angles he was spotted by a Warner Brothers scout which led to bit parts in Warner and MGM projects. He finally landed a cherry of a deal when he was cast in eight pictures as Johnny Nelson, the sidekick of Hopalong Cassidy. Famous director Cecil B. DMille cast Ellison in the epic western The Plainsman (1936) with co-star Gary Cooper. DeMille hated Ellison’s performance and worked to make sure he would never get as good a role again. Ellison did make films from 1936 to the 1950 such as They Met in Argentina (1941) with Maureen O’Hara, Vivacious Lady (1938) with Ginger Rogers, and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). In 1950 Ellison returned to his cowboy roles in B-westerns. This included 11 films where he was the lead lawman. When the westerns fell out of fashion in the 1950s Ellison left movies and became a real estate broker. Ellison died at the age of 83 from a fall that resulted in a broken neck.

Frances Dee played the role of Nurse Betsy Connell. Her IMDb review says she was “hailed as one of the most beautiful women in motion pictures.” I don’t see it, but whatever. Dee became interested in acting when she was around 20 and her father was transferred back to Los Angles. She began working as an extra and her good looks got her noticed. Her talents were first noted in Playboy of Paris (1930) where she starred opposite Maurice Chevalier. She was then cast in An American Tragedy (1931), as the débutante who seduces a man to commit murder to obtain the lifestyle she wanted. One of her earlier outstanding performances was in movies was Blood Money (1933). This was a pre-code movie and her biographer, Andrew Wentnik, said that “When a friend recently admonished her for playing a prostitute in Blood Money (1933), she denied it saying, ‘I played a masochistic nymphomaniacal kleptomaniac, not a prostitute.'”

During the remainder of the 1930s, Dee played supporting roles for more popular actresses such as Little Women (1933) with Katharine Hepburn, Of Human Bondage (1934) with Betty Davis, and Becky Sharp (1935) with Miriam Hopkins. Dee lost her chance to play Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) but David O. Selznick thought she was too beautiful for the role.

Dee took her most memorable role in I Walked with a Zombie (1943) so she could buy a new car for her mother. After finishing Gypsy Colt (1954) and Mister Scoutmaster (1953) Dee retired in 1953. Dee died in 2004.

Tom Conway played the role of Paul Holland. Holland was born to a wealthy family in pre-Communist Russia. The family fled to England before the Bolshevik Revolution. While they presented themselves as having lost their fortune in Russia they took enough with them to ensure private educations for the family. After college, Tom went to Rhodesia and worked in gold, copper and asbestos mines. I’m not asbestos mining is a good idea. After failing he returned to England where he worked in manufacturing and sales.

Conway joined the Manchester Repertory Company and after a time was invited to Hollywood by his actor brother George Sanders. Conway got off to a good start as a contract player in 12 films for MGM including a small part in Mrs. Miniver (1942). Conway’s brother George Sanders was tiring of his RKO series The Falcon and made arrangements for his brother to take his place. This lead to 11 films in the series beginning with The Falcon’s Brother (1942) and ending with The Falcon’s Adventure (1946). He was in other films during this time period including Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) The Seventh Victim (1943), One Touch of Venus (1948) with Ava Gardner, and Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951).

When the studio system collapsed Conway lost most of his roles leading to such movies as Bride of the Gorilla (1951). Key played Sir Kay in the English movie Prince Valiant (1954). I got to see that. This was followed by a few years doing television in America. One of his last films was voice work for 101 Dalmatians (1961). Bad eyesight and alcoholism took their toll and he was found living in a 2-dollar a night room in 1964.

Failing eyesight and prolonged bouts with alcohol took their toll on Conway in his last years. His second wife, Queenie Leonard divorced him in 1963. George Sanders broke off all contact with him over his drinking. The publicity resulted in some money but he was spending a lot of time in the hospital. Once his former sister-in-law Zsa Zsa Gabor gave him $200 to tip the nurses. Conway took the money and left the hospital eventually dying at his girlfriend’s house in 1967.

Edith Barrett played the role of Mrs. Rand. She has a good run on television from 1941 to 1952. She did not make a lot of movies but there is some quality there including I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Ghost Ship (1943), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and Jane Eyre (1943) which oddly enough is the same plot as I Walked with a Zombie (1943). What I find most interesting about Barrett is that she was married to the master of macabre Vincent Price. She died in 1977.

James Bell played Dr. Maxwell. Born in 1891 Bell had a good run of movies including I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Holiday Inn (1942), and The Glenn Miller Story (1954). He died in 1973.

Christine Gordon played Jessica Holland and she wasn’t very lively in this film. See what I did there. She had five uncredited roles and was only credited in I Walked with a Zombie (1943).

Theresa Harris played Alma the Maid and keeper of secret knowledge. Harris appeared with more stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood than any other actor. She was a singer, a dancer, a film actress, and a television actress. Although stereotyped into certain roles because of her African-American race she was able to transcend and often stole the scene from the main star. Beautiful and petite Harris never had to face the mammy roles like Hattie McDaniel

One of Harris’ most famous roles was in Babyface (1933). What is so interesting about this role is that Harris had equal screen time with Barbara Stanwyck which was unheard of at the time. In Professional Sweetheart (1933), which starred Ginger Rogers, Harris played a sexy maid that taught Rogers about being sexy and replaced Rogers for a radio song. In other movies such as Jezebel (1938) Harris worked with Betty Davis, He did her horror bits as well including I Walked With A Zombie (1943) and Cat People (1942).

Harris worked for every major studio and was well respected by most major players in the business. In the late 1950s, Harris married a doctor and retired from show business. She passed away in 1985.

Sir Lancelot, of course, played the Calypso Singer. Lancelot was covered in Episode 41 –  Zombies on Broadway (1945).

Darby Jones played the zombie Carrefour and was a lot scarier in this movie than in the one where he was introduced, Episode 41 –  Zombies on Broadway (1945).

Vivian Dandridge played the role of Melisse. Dandridge was the older sister of Dorothy Dandridge and is known for playing in The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935), King Kong (1933) and A Day at the Races (1937).


The movie starts with a couple walking a beach. A female voice talks about the last year and having walked with a zombie. It then switches to a snowy Ottawa, Canada where nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is accepting a job offer to work on San Sebastian, an island in the West Indies.

The scene switches again to a sailing ship heading from Antique to San Sebastian. Betsy is looking at the stars and thinking about the beauty of all when her new boss Paul Holland (Tom Conway) comes over and starts telling her this is a place of death and has not beauty. Bummer.

Betsy is taken to Fort Holland by a driver and he gives her an overview of slavery and the island history. Betsy again says it’s beautiful but the driver says if you say. When she arrives at Fort Holland she sees the old figurehead of the slave ship, a figure of Saint Sebastian complete with arrows. The locals call this figure Ti Misery. Betsy’s job is to take care of Paul’s invalid wife Jessica (Christine Gordon). At dinner, on the first night, Betsy meets Paul’s half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison). Wesley is very charming but he’s knocking back drinks at such a rate you can see it’s going to be a problem. They start hearing drums in the distance and he says that is like the work bell at the sugar factory. Wasn’t Murder (Bela Lugosi) doing something like that in Episode 20 –White Zombie (1932) Paul shows up and Wesley heads for the mill. Betsy is told she will start working in the morning.

The night she hears crying and like a crazy person goes out into the dark to investigate. She ends up in the keep of the old fort. She is beset upon by a tall slender woman in a white flowing gown. Her pale face and dark sunken eyes look like that of a vampire. When Betsy screams the others come to the rescue. The woman, of course, is Jessica.

The crying came from Alma the Maid (Theresa Harris) because she found out her sister is going to have a baby. Betsy and Paul go to the garden near Ti Misery. Betsy asks about the crying. Paul talks about the slave ship figure and says Alma’s people have had a hard existence because of slavery and that is why they cry at births and celebrate deaths. Think about a second line playing jazz at a funeral in New Orleans. Another element is present also. Saint Sebastian is a syncretize version of Oshosi an Orisha of the Yoruba religion originating from West Africa. This is especially true in Brazil.

The next morning Alma wakes Betsy by touching her toe because it is furthest from her heart. Alma tells her that she was sick and then went away. Paul chews Betsy out for being timid but she fires back that she wouldn’t have gone if she was so timid. He gives her a warning about island superstition. Betsy meets with Dr. Maxwell (James Bell) and he calls Jessica a zombie. The Dr. says portions of Jessica’s spinal cord was burned out be a tropical fever.

On Betsy first day off she runs into Wesley and he starts hitting the booze pretty hard and Sir Lancelot is singing a song about then Holland family. The song says all of the badness starts when Jessica and Wesley fell in love. Wesley drank until he passed out. Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) the mother of Paul and Wesley comes to help. When she meets Betsy they get along well. Mrs. Rand tells Betsy that everything medical has been tried on Jessica.

Back at the Fort, the two brothers have a fight about Jessica in front of Betsy. Later that night Betsy talks to Paul and he is pretty brutal to her. She realizes that she is in love with Paul and the only course of action is to restore Jessica to health. The first thing Betsy and the Dr. try is insulin shock. Paul comforts Betsy and Wesley comes and calls Paul a hypocrite.

Alma’s sister Melisse (Vivian Dandridge) brings the baby by so I guess nine months have passed. Alma tells Betsy about the other kind of doctors that are at the home fort AKA the voodoo circle. Alma says that the Houngan- voodoo priest can cure. Betsy starts to believe it might. Betsy goes to Mrs. Holland and talks over giving voodoo a try. Mrs. Rand recommends against it.

On a windy night, Betsy takes Jessica to the home force with the help of a map from Alma and two pieces of cloth that are the voodoo passes. Alma also says that a zombie slave Carrefour (Darby Jones) will be guarding the crossroads but will let them pass because of the cloth patches. In many African traditions, the crossroads is a place of decision/indecision and demons can pray on you at that time. This was taken to the southeast and became that you could sell your soul to the devil at the crossroads. If you would like to take a trip there it is located where highway 61 and 49 cross in Clarksville, Mississippi.

Carrefour was only seen for a short bit and he was very scary. In Episode 41 – Zombies on Broadway (1945) he had too much screen time and lost a lot of his effect. They see a cow skull on the way and a daed something or other, maybe a sheep, hanging in a tree. This is followed by a gourd and a human skull in a rock circle. Betsy losses her cloth but Carrefour lets them in any way. When they get to the home fort there is sword dancing, trances, and drum dancing. But no one seems to care about the visitors.

There is a hut where people line up at the door to ask questions. Betsy goes to the door and when it is opened a hand comes out and pulls her inside. Jessica is left outside. inside of the hut is Mrs. Rand. Mrs. Rand explains that she has been using voodoo to help the local people. She again says that nothing can be done for Jessica. Outside they cut Jessica’s arm and the crowd believes she is a zombie. Betsy and Jessica make it back to Fort Holland.

Betsy says to Paul says he knows that she loves him and wanted to return Jessica to him. He says he ain’t that good and he doesn’t want his wife back. The drums kick up again.

The next morning the police show up because the voodoo folks want to finish their test. Back at the home fort they are dressing a voodoo doll like Jessica and playing the drums. Paul and Betsy try to figure out what to do with Jessica. At the same time, the voodoo doll is given to Carrefour. Paul tells Betsy to go back to Canada because he will destroy their love if she stays.

That night Carrefour makes it to Fort Holland. Paul tries to stop him but can’t. Mrs. Rand comes out and sends Carrefour away. The next morning Paul tells Mrs. Rand that Paul is having her leave. The law comes back and announces that Paul will be investigated. Mrs. Rand says she can straighten it out because she is the one that made Jessica a zombie when she wanted to go away with Wesley. Mrs. Rand says she did it to save her family. Dr. Maxwell says it was the fever and there are no zombies. Maxwell explains that the victim must die so Mrs. Rand was not responsible.

Back at the home fort that night the Houngan uses the voodoo to pull Jessica to him. Paul tells Wesley that Jessica was in a coma and Dr. Maxwell might be wrong. Wesley tells Betsy he wants her to kill Jessica. The drumming calls Jessica out again and Wesley helps her to leave. He pulls an arrow from Ti Misery and stabs Jessica just as Houngan stabs the doll. Wesley takes Jessica’s body and walks into the sea while Carrefour follows to the ocean edge. Later some men recover the body and Carrefour brings the body back to Fort Holland.

So I guess Betsy and Paul live happily ever after??

World-Famous Short Summary – Nurse takes an island job and meets some new friends

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I am a professional archaeologist, a bonsai guy, a classic movie reviewer, and database expert. Past exploits include Golden Gloves boxing, a 2nd Degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and an Eagle Scout badge.

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