Friday, October 30, 2009

Woe is Poe on Film?

Are Poe's short stories best served by shorts?

In today's Baltimore Sun, Chris Kaltenbach penned an article ("Macabre movies miss the mark") about the dearth of quality film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's tales. While Kaltenbach liked Jules Dassin's 1941 adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart (which is available as an extra in Warner Brothers' The Complete Thin Man DVD boxset), he regretted that it was only 20 minutes long, lamenting that most feature film adaptations - usually by Roger Corman during his reign at AIP - missed the mark, though he gave a grudging pass to Corman's Nicolas Roeg-lensed 1964 version of The Mask of Red Death.

It's an interesting debate, one that makes me think that Kaltenbach was onto something. Maybe the master short story teller was best served by the short film medium, and maybe The Tell-Tale Heart was the Poe story best translated to film. In that case, here's a shout-out to my favorite Poe short, the 1953 UPA animated version narrated by James Mason.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
Directed by Ted Parmelee
Narrated by James Mason

This Oscar-nominated short is essential viewing for Poe afficionados. It surprisingly comes from UPA, the studio whose animation style is most often associated with Mr. Magoo cartoons (as well as Gerald McBoing-Boing, for those who remember him!). James Mason's narration is inspired and atmospherically pitch-perfect! It captures the mood, tone and feel of Poe's story perfectly and is an incredible piece of work. Director Ted Parmalee also helmed a critically acclaimed adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes (1953) and went on to direct many TV episodes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

Watch it here:

For some reason this short turned up as an extra on the 2004 DVD release of the feature film Hellboy.

OK, while we're on the subject of Tell-Tale Heart shorts, another of my favorites for your consideration - though it takes outrageous comedic liberties with the Poe tale - is Jill Chamberlain's (much sought after) Poe-meets-Sex-in-the-City spoof The Tell-Tale Vibrator.

The Tell-Tale Vibrator (1999)
Written and Directed by Jill Chamberlain
(USA, 9 minutes, color)

"Let's just say that the title says it all in this provocative and extremely funny film"- RISD Film Festival catalog

I first saw this at the MicroCineFest in 1999. It played the festival circuit that year, winning the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the Atlantic City Film Festival and Best Short at the Saguaro Film Festival. As the title suggests, this humorous short tells the story of a single woman who, when her parents come to visit her in her new apartment in New York City for the first time, becomes unnerved by the tell-tale, albeit familiar, buzzing sound coming from her bedroom bureau.

Does anyone have a copy of this (hmmmm, Skizz?)? I remember it being really funny.

Related Links:
UPA's animated Tell-Tale Heart (YouTube)


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