The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)

10/14/2020 06:31

Film: The Tell-Tale Heart

Year: 1960

Director: Ernest Morris

Writer: Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard

Starring: Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri and Dermot Walsh



This was a version of the story from Edgar Allan Poe that I wasn’t aware existed. I’m not surprised since this is a popular story that doesn’t take a whole lot to actually bring to the screen. It would be one that wouldn’t be the easiest to do with before the sound and music were actually synced to the images on screen, but we’re past that in terms of cinema by at least 20 years. I recognized the name of Adrienne Corri from a few different things like A Clockwork OrangeBunny Lake is Missing and Madhouse. To get into this movie though, the synopsis is Edgar (Laurence Payne) is plagued by what he’s done when strange sounds are coming from under the floor. 

I’ll admit, the synopsis that was listed on the Internet Movie Database didn’t describe the movie at all, but explaining that it differed from the actual short story and the one on Letterboxd stated a bit too much so I cut it down to give you the jist. 

We start this movie with a warning that this displays some scary images and when you hear heavy thumping that sounds similar to a heart, if it is too much then look away. It then shows us who we will learn to be Edgar coming out of a room. He’s at the top of the stairs and something he is hearing is driving him mad. He goes down and into the lounge where he thinks a metronome on the piano is the cause of the sound. When smashing it doesn’t help, he realizes it is coming from under the piano and tries to get to the source. 

The movie then shifts us into the past of what will lead us to this moment. Edgar is a wealthy man who is best friends with Carl (Dermot Walsh). These two guys couldn’t be more different. We get a scene at a bar where a woman comes on to Edgar and he flees, where we get the feeling that Carl would know what to do. Edgar sees a young woman of Betty (Corri) move in next door. He goes about learning about her. From the landlady, Annette Carell, he learns that she works at the local flower shop. Edgar does make a bit of fool out of himself when asking about getting a certain type of flower and while she’s gone, he flees. Edgar seeks out the aid from his friend of what to do. 

He does take the advice and it works. Their first dinner date is a bit awkward, but it doesn’t go bad. He walks her to her door where he gets fresh, trying to kiss her. She rebuffs his efforts though. Edgar is persistent and sees her at work the next day. He hasn’t ruined it and asks her out for a drink, which she does agree in seeing him again. 

While they’re out, the two are dancing and I get the feeling that Betty isn’t enjoying it as much as he is. Things take a turn when Carl shows up at the club. Edgar invites his friend to join them for a drink. He tries to decline, but the two are persistent for different reasons. Edgar really loves his friend where Betty is enamored. He stays longer than he intended and ends up dancing with Betty

Edgar and Betty see each other regularly, but she is really hoping to see more of Carl. One of these times is when she learns that the two men meet up to play chess on Sundays. She takes this chance to come over and this turns into Carl being invited to a dinner with this couple the following night. It is there that Carl gives into her advances. The problem is that that Edgar’s window looks directly into Betty’s apartment and he sees everything.

Now that’s where I want to leave my recap for this movie. This movie does have an interesting take on the Poe story and with the changes that are made, does allow it to adapt pretty well to the screen in my opinion. There are some interesting aspects that are introduced as well. 

This is really a three-person story with some minor players that are there in support. I want to start with the character of Edgar. He isn’t confident in himself and Carl has an interesting take on him. That is ‘he is a man to be pitied and that is what invites on him’. He is enamored with Betty who is quite beautiful, but he really doesn’t have any confidence. It is a shame as he’s wealthy enough and not bad looking. He is shy around women, which we get to see with Elsie (Elizabeth Paget) at the bar earlier. There is some creepiness to him as well. Betty’s curtains are open so Edgar sees her as she undresses and also something else that becomes the crux of everything that happens. Carl also has another thing he says that Edgar doesn’t really love her, but he thinks he does. He would be as happy to just possess her as actually having her share the feelings he feels for her. 

There are then the characters of Betty and Carl. I can’t fully blame Betty for using Edgar. He isn’t picking up that she isn’t fully reciprocating the feelings that he is feeling for her. He is really pushing for her to go out with him, so I can’t fault her for taking advantage of it. It is not great of her though to go after his friend, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I will give credit to Carl though. He ignores her and her advances for a good stretch. She is really the aggressor and it is Edgar’s fault in part for the two of them spending time together early. He feels for her what she is feeling for him, so I can’t fault them. 

Before shifting to another aspect of the story, I might as well delve into the acting since I’ve gone through the characters themselves. Payne I really think is the best part of this movie. He does a great job at playing this character. I felt from the beginning of the movie he was a bit unstable and having that cold open that is a scene later in the movie really helps there as well. When he snaps, I believe he is capable of things that he does. Corri is good as well. She does a lot with her body language and I appreciate that. Walsh gives off the confidence, which he really needs to and it fits. The rest of the cast help to round this out and develop the scenes they are in. 

To move back to the story elements, we do get some things with sight and vision. Edgar is a peeping tom, looking in the window of Betty’s apartment. It is interesting this came out in 1960 as we get to see her in lingerie. The movie is set in Victorian times, or at least it feels like, which is interesting to potentially cut down on nudity. We also get a scene where Betty is constantly staring at Carl right in front of Edgar. He doesn’t seem to notice and I love that they’re dancing, sitting at the table and pretty much everything in this scene, no matter what they are doing, she is staring at him. Carl is returning this look and we get extreme close-up of his eyes, as he gazes back at her. I thought this is interesting as an early thing where the ‘male gaze’ becomes a thing as the horror genre develops. 

I’ll take this next to effects of the movie. This movie is in black and white, which I’ve come to appreciate. We don’t get a lot of effects and it is still fairly early in the genre where we aren’t getting a lot in the way of blood or effects. There is a pretty violent scene though where we get the aggressor covered in blood. That looked good and with the lack of color, I can’t hold against the movie if it looked real or not. What we get to see worked for me. The cinematography is also fine in my opinion. I really liked the use of seeing our characters looking at things and focusing on that. 

The last thing to go over before ending this review would be the soundtrack. The music that is used worked for me. When we are hearing music that is diegetic, it fits for the era. I never put together that Poe was writing in Victorian times, just in the United States. This movie has shifted this story to be over in England and I’m good with that. What I really liked though is the drumming sound that is mimicking what a beating heart would be. It starts with a clock in Edgar’s room. When he stops that, it is dripping water before becoming something else. This really sets the tone and fit for the warning in the beginning of the movie. They are all annoying sounds that are getting to Edgar, which is a representation of his conscious and I can get behind this. 

So now with that said, I really did enjoy this adaptation of a short story. It is one that affords you to add your own flair to it and what they do here does that. We explore some interesting ideas here with Edgar seeming to be an unstable guy and his character is played well by Payne. It is hard to fault his two counterparts for what is happening and they’re portrayed in a solid way. The other actors do well in support. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it is early enough in cinema so I can’t complain. The soundtrack, sound design and cinematography really add some good elements as well. With that out of the way, I would rate this as an above average movie overall. An interesting film for sure, but just lacking a bit for me to go higher than that at this time. 


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10