Saturday 6 October 2007

The Tell-Tale Heart (1941) Jules Dassin

Jules Dassin directed a number of true classics, not least The Naked City and Rififi. He was twice nominated for Oscars, one for direction and one for screenwriting, but both for Never on Sunday. He may well have been nominated more often if he hadn't have fallen foul of the McCarthy witchhunts. His first film though was this twenty minute short for MGM based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story and his talent is already very much apparent.

The story is pretty well known: a young man has come to truly hate his master, an older man with a fake eye and a tyrannical nature, and one night he kills him. He carries on regardless, pretending that the old man has left but is eventually undone by his own conscience because the old man's heart continues to beat in his mind, driving him slowly insane until he confesses. It's a peach of a story, one I've read a number of times, and I've seen a few adaptations of it too, live action and animated both.

This one's a good one, certainly, and it's thoroughly enjoyable to watch, but it's missing something. The old man is Joseph Schildkraut, who had been in the business since 1915, with such important roles behind him as Judas Iscariot in The King of Kings, King Herod in Cleopatra and an Oscar winning turn as Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola. He's fine here but maybe not tyrannical enough. Most importantly though, there's not enough focus on the eye which was so memorable from the story.

The young man is Roman Bohnen, who I didn't know at all. I've seen him in a few films but without recognising him. He's powerful here and very believable as a man driven insane. In fact he carries this more than anyone, though Dassin's direction is powerful too. However the film is definitely too short and it does seem strange to see the story without some of the more famous lines from the story. Maybe I'm just used to versions that are narrated rather than purely acted, which does seem appropriate. It's an interesting little short though.

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