I saw William Friedkin’s Cruising for the first time in 25 years when it played on IFC recently.
Having listened to Friedkin’s DVD audio commentary on Val Lewton’s The Leopard Man, I couldn’t help but notice all the borrowings from Lewton in Cruising (The Exorcist is not the only Friedkin film to be Lewton-influenced), particularly Al Pacino’s night-walk through Central Park. Night-walks were a virtual Lewton trademark. (See, Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, The Curse of the Cat People – practically the entire Lewton oeuvre!)
Cruising – like Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut – comes close to being a remake of The Seventh Victim. In all three films, the protagonist descends like Orpheus into an underworld – a specifically New York underworld – to find someone who functions as a double. In The Seventh Victim, the protagonist (Kim Hunter) is looking for her sister; in Cruising, the cop (Pacino) is looking for a murderer; in Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) runs into one woman after another who functions as a double for his wife. (David Thomson made the astute comment that all the women in the film should’ve been played by Nicole Kidman.)
In all three films, the underworld is sexually ambivalent — note the numerous hints of lesbianism in The Seventh Victim. In all three films, the protagonist infiltrates a cult of some kind (the Greenwich Village devil worshipers in The Seventh Victim; the leather bar world in Cruising; sex orgies of the super-rich in Eyes Wide Shut). All three films have ambivalent endings, not the reassuring affirmations of more conventional cinema. The Seventh Victim is not only Lewton’s most personal film; it is a prototype for the entire film noir movement.
I have no idea whether Friedkin and Kubrick knew they were, in effect, remaking Lewton’s 1943 classic. What I’d suggest is that The Seventh Victim established a narrative archetype, an updating of the Orphic myth, that subsequent films have consciously or unconsciously emulated.