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One dollar DVDs: Part 45 (The Tell-Tale Heart) - The Grumpy Young Man [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The Grumpy Young Man

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One dollar DVDs: Part 45 (The Tell-Tale Heart) [Nov. 30th, 2008|12:35 am]
The Grumpy Young Man
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Movie title: The Tell-Tale Heart
Starring: Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri, Dermot Walsh
Director: Ernest Morris
Writer: Edgar Allan Poe (original), Brian Clemens (adaption), Eldon Howard (adaption)
Genre: Horror
Year: 1960
My rating:
Amazon.com page

It must be an ambitious undertaking for a film production to tackle Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". After all, it is one of Poe's most famous and chilling works. If the film falls flat on its face, then the director can't simply blame the original text for being underwhelming. And much of the horror is based upon Poe's prose which is not the easiest thing to convey in film.

However, the most challenging aspect must be the fact that Poe's original story is a little more than five pages long. It works as one quick effective jolt, not as a long sustaining opus. While The Internet Movie Database lists an astonishing 22 attempts at filming this story, I was hesitant to see how this particular instantiation (a low-budget 1960 British full length film) would attempt to pad the length.

Writing additional material into Poe's classic work is something that should only be attempted by experts. Surprisingly, there was a writing team up to the challenge. The most famous of this pair is Brian Clemens who is now more known for having written for and having produced The Avengers, The Professionals and other British television programs. At this point in his career, he was churning out a lot of B-movie crime/thriller scripts with his writing partner Eldon Howard.

As one would assume, quite a lot of story has been added to flesh out this production to a standard movie running time. In this telling of the tale, the main character is a fellow called Edgar (not much of a stretch). Edgar is a troubled, lonely and strange man who has a very odd manner in dealing with the fair sex (again, they aren't going very far for material). I'm not sure exactly what connection (if any) the producers where attempting between Edgar the character and Edgar the author, but it is notable that he is a much weaker character than the brash central figure of the original story.

Betty, a pretty young woman, moves in across the street, and Edgar is soon painfully infatuated. Despite the lady's obvious unease with his advances, Edgar's mind quickly escalates the relationship far past where it exists in actuality. Within the span of a few chaste dinner dates (and one uncomfortable groping session), he's buying jewelry for her and imagining the two of them in a fantasy of wedded bliss with a long and happy future together.

Of course, reality must intrude, and it does so in the form of Edgar's best friend, Carl. Carl is a charming and handsome man who Edgar insistently invites to a few of his outings with Betty. One thing leads to another, Carl and Betty become very close, and given the original story you can see where this is going to end up, can't you?

The new material not taken from the original story is rather simplistic and wholly predictable. But this actually works in the film's favor. While the film's approach is more conventional in plot, it retains the Gothic feel of the original. The straightforward nature of the storyline allows the tension and the atmospherics to rise. There's no mystery for the viewer, everything is predictable. The audience therefore can focus on the journey rather than spend time worrying about the destination.

The recreation of the 19th Century is very good and the effective black and white cinematography reminded me of more than one Sherlock Holmes film. It did take me a while to realize that the action was taking place in France and not (as I originally assumed) in London. Why the story was set there is a question I can't immediately answer, but the outdoor cafes and florist shops are a nice touch.

The film production has a nice feel to it and there are a few moments where the atmosphere becomes very dark indeed (and probably appeared even more close to the edge in 1960). The cast does a very good job; the overall performances are more theatrical than cinematic in scope, but that acting decision makes a lot of sense within this context. Laurence Payne has the always difficult task of making a psychotic character appear realistic yet he manages quite well. Dermot Walsh and Adrienne Corri (known for roles in A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Who) do an admiral job as the ill-fated romantic pairing.

For overall quality, it doesn't really come close to Poe's original work, but then, few things do. For a low-budget adaptation from the early 1960s, this is surprisingly decent.

Next time on One Dollar DVDs: Wes Craven's CHILLER (1985).