The Tell-tale Tit

vlcsnap-83995

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

vlcsnap-84099

Tell-Tale-Tit!

Yer mammy cannae knit!

Yer dad’s in the dustbin,

Eating dirty chips!

Such was the playground taunt of my childhood, directed against anyone who “clyped”, or ratted on a friend to a teacher or other adult. No reason to mention it here, except that I’ve been watching THE TELL-TALE HEART, a rare British adaptation of Poe, from 1960. Director Ernest Morris was from TV, but does a pretty good job on an obviously tight budget. Also with TV credentials are co-writer Brian Clemens, the mastermind behind The Avengers (and later screenwriter of DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER) and producers the Danzigers, specialists in B-films and quota quickies, who were quick to scoop up American talent like Joseph Losey and Richard Lester to direct TV thrillers like Mark Saber.

vlcsnap-85152

vlcsnap-85535

Adrienne Corri has shed her DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS puppy fat and is now very skinny indeed, but Laurence Payne doesn’t seem to mind.

The cast reunites two stars from the Danziger’s hilarious DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, Edinburgh-born Adrienne Corri (whose future would feature several films for Hammer, one for Kubrick, and who had already made THE RIVER with Renoir) and Dermot Walsh. In the lead role of this romantic triangle is Laurence Payne, fervently neurasthenic as Edgar Marsh, or is it Edgar Poe? Weirdly, different characters in different scenes refer to him by different names. The confusion is rather surprising — filmmakers weren’t really doing Lynchian identity-blurs in Britain in 1960, and yet it’s a very odd thing to do by accident. Maybe the two credited writers wrote alternate scenes and never compared notes? I like the idea of the film being composed like a surrealist game of “exquisite corpse”, with each author unaware of the other’s pages.

I also liked the patina of weird scratches and smears covering the print, which made me think of the “underfilm” referred to in Theodor Roszak’s great novel Flicker — it was exciting to think that this shimmering mass of unreadable, subliminal runes and hieroglyphs might be branding my subconscious with arcane information that would ultimately sterilise me with fear.

The new plot spun from fragments of Poe’s short story has Poe/Marsh, resident of a big old house on the Rue Morgue (despite the real Poe being American, and this street being French, we seem to be, however vaguely, in England) smitten with Corri, the florist across the street, into whose bedroom he can spy. Like so many horror movie heroines, she has a blithe tendency to undress by the window — it’s one of the many ways in which real women disappoint when compared to their celluloid sisters. Since we’ve already seen Marshpoe perusing his collection of classy porn (staring hard at the pages until his arm falls limply to his side, a peculiarly hands-0ff approach to onanism), we can guess what effect this is likely to have upon him.

vlcsnap-84784

A shy and fumbling suitor, Poemarsh turns to his man-of-the-world best pal, Carl Loomis (1960 was a good year for Loomises), played by Walsh, and suddenly the film seems like a premake of  Richard Lester’s THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT, with a successful loverboy guiding an incompetent novice, until both find themselves competing over a girl. The difference being that Michael Crawford never bludgeoned Ray Brooks to death with a poker and hid him under the living room floor.

vlcsnap-86620

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Now comes the Mario Bava stuff. The incessant beating of the dead man’s heart (?) is picked up by a ticking metronome and a dripping tap, leading me to wonder if Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, three years later, was consciously influenced by this obscure movie. When a claw-like sea-shell ornament and a piece of porcelain start rocking back and forth in time to the beat, I was strongly reminded of the sliding china hand from Bava’s last feature, SHOCK.

Then, my favourite bit, the carpet bulging rhythmically to the beat of the heart, as if the living room floor were a cartoon character’s bosom.

vlcsnap-87273

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

Finally, we get the Poe pay-off, “It’s the beating of that infernal heart!” (Payne is great at anguish and hysteria and Ernest Morris has a smart sense of when to let rip with an ECU) , and then an it-was-all-a-dream-or-was-it? ending no doubt inspired by DEAD OF NIGHT, which almost-but-not-quite accounts for the hero’s double name. (He’s Poe in reality, Marsh in his dream — although this schism contributes nothing except a floating caul of confusion.)

Close-up of a chess board where Marsh left it in Poe’s dream: “Checkmate!”

BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM…

About these ads

17 Responses to “The Tell-tale Tit”

  1. Though not a Poe adaptation one of the most intensely Poe-like films ever made is Lang’s exquisite House By the River. It’s been pretty much forgotten by all but the MacMahonists and I highly reccomend you take a look.

  2. I’ve never seen that one, I believe it’s out on a DVD by KINO.

    My favourite Poe-like film is Bunuel’s ENSAYO DE UN CRIMEN(better known as THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, for me a better title then Rehearsal of a Crime) it has a magical music box that gives the title character to kill any woman he wants even if only indirectly and it’s narrated in first person via flashbacks just like Poe. It even has some of Poe’s sense of humour, much overlooked in my view.

    The best Poe film for me is Fellini’s TOBY DAMMITT which is more Fellini than Edgar Allan but what’s right is right.

  3. Oh it’s a masterpiece. But “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” is a darkly comic tale. Fellini’s Toby Dammit is something else entirely.

    Fellini originally cast Peter O’Toole in the part. But then O’Toole read the script more close and realized it was about him — so he took a pass.

  4. Oh, I wrote a somewhat inaccurate review of House by the River, from memory, for Senses of Cinema. It’s a delerious, decaying film with the hysteria and insane subjectivity one asssociates with Poe. One of the things that works best in the film cited above is the close concentration on one character, who turns out to be dreaming the whole thing. When it departs from his viewpoint, it’s lost. I think this is key to any Poe adaptation — the eeriness must be focussed down one POV, ending on a neurotic and unstable and thoroughly unreliable narrator.

  5. Toby Dammitt is great, but three parts Fellini to one part Poe. And the Bava influence is fascinating.

    I have a copy of Epstein’s House of Usher film which looks stunning, but needs a translation. And then there’s Ken Russell’s Fall of the Louse of Usher, which seems to BEG for a dismissal as “lousy” but I can’t bring myself to be mean about Ken. It’s not one of his best though.

  6. Christopher Says:

    Adrienne Corri’s best line..off camera
    On the Commentary track on Clockwork Orange,Malcom McDowell quotes Adrienne Corri as saying just before they shoot the scene where he cuts away her clothes for the rape in the home invasion scene,Now Malcom you are about to see I truely am a redhead..”

  7. She seems like an amusing lady. She gave Kubrick a birthday present of a pair of socks identical to the ones she’s stripped down to in CO. There’s some fun stuff in John Baxter’s Kubrick bio, although it’s not very critically astute.

  8. Curtis’ last film was an Usher adaptation.. He was quite ill at the time he made it.

    His Night Tide is very Poe.

  9. …with a bit of Lewton. And with Dennis Hopper.

    I just started wondering what a Lewton Poe would be like, but I suspect Lewton would have resisted the overtly phantasmagoric aspects — he always liked to keep a foot in reality, whether contemporary New York or a meticulously researched history. Whereas Poe doesn’t have firm ground for any of his feet, his stories are like mirror-mazes erected on a mudslide.

  10. Christopher Says:

    Isle of the Dead is probably the closest thing Lewton did to Poe I think..Sadly underrated,the last 30 or more minutes contain some of most eerie moments that top some of the greater Lewtons..
    Poe is like looking thru a Gin glass darkly..delerium has finally become a lasting reality…the horror!

  11. Isle of the Dead was one of only two horror movies that freaked me out as a kid, the other being The Mummy — burial alive does get to me… Later on, Theatre of Blood disturbed me deeply with its black comedy, which I didn’t quite get. The image of beloved sitcom star Arthur Lowe’s severed head on a milk bottle was too much for my young mind.

    But Lewton really functions by summoning up disturbing IDEAS, with images that stand in for them indirectly. Although, as Kim Newman has pointed out, the films are actually quite violent for the period also.

    I’d like to see Cronenberg tackle Poe — the altered states of Naked Lunch and Spider seem quite close, in some ways. He could strip away all the gothic trappings and do it in a contemporary setting, and still get closer to the true heart of Poe than Corman (although I love Corman).

  12. Matt Hulse Says:

    Mr Cairns

    Re: ‘patina of weird scratches and smears covering the print, which made me think of the “underfilm” — it was exciting to think that this shimmering mass of unreadable, subliminal runes and hieroglyphs might be branding my subconscious with arcane information that would ultimately sterilise me with fear.’

    Do you know Peter Tscherkassky’s work? He seems to have got that particular articulation of the ‘fearful’ celluloid surface down to a fine art – his films are really scary but he has no need for a story to get you into the mood. The ‘patina of weird scratches’ can do that by itself. Believe.

    Matt x

  13. I’ve just looked Tscherkassky up — this is a good one:

    It’s a fascinating area. I found parts of Decasia quite alarming, and Bergman freaks out the audience in Persona by having the film seem to jam and melt in the projector.

  14. Christopher Says:

    didn’t they go for that effect on the Video tape in the american version of The Ring?…was actually the most disturbing part of the movie for me…

  15. Yeah, the tape in Verbinski’s Ring is pretty good, actually. If only he made the whole film like that. But I hold out some hope that Verbinski may one day surprise us all.

  16. [...] yet often effective, adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart. For another, lesser version, see here. Later, we can hopefully pay some attention to Jules Dassin’s magnificent short film version, [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: