The Seventh Veil (1945)

Article 1995 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2006
Posting Date: 1-28-2007
Directed by Compton Bennett
Featuring James Mason, Ann Todd, Herbert Lom

A psychiatrist tries to tap into the mind of a female pianist who attempted suicide after escaping from her hotel room. He learns her life story, which involves a guardian who has a Svengali-like hold over her.

At the outset, I’ll point out that the fantastic content here is very slight. We deal somewhat with mental illness, hypnotism comes into play (though not in a menacing sense), and these are both elements of horror, but probably the biggest element has to do with the fact that the story is somewhat modeled after the Svengali/Trilby story, though it should be pointed out that the nature of the hold that the guardian has over the pianist is something a lot more subtle than the hypnotism of the source story; in a sense, this movie’s fantastic content is by proxy only.

At first, this movie didn’t impress me much; the beginning scenes made it look as if they had merely taken the Svengali story and filtered it though “Jane Eyre”, and most of these early scenes felt overly familiar. However, the movie took what I thought was a surprising left turn at the halfway point, when the pianist gives her first concert which, due to the presence of certain people, I expected to be a failure, but instead turned out to be a triumph. It as at this point that the movie really comes into its own, and I think much of the credit to this movie’s power goes to Ann Todd’s exquisite performance as the pianist. Despite the fact that she’s got plenty of acting competition from the rest of the cast (including James Mason, Herbert Lom, Albert Lieven and Hugh McDermott, who are all excellent), she’s the one who really pulls it all together, and her piano playing looks so convincing that I wonder if she actually was classically trained on the instrument. Still, fans of fantastic cinema will certainly get some fun out of seeing two famous Captain Nemos in the same scene. Though in some ways this is a love story, it’s actually less sexist than many of them when you consider just how important the pianist’s career is in making her life decisions. Very well done.



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