Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

With Roger Corman enjoying great success in the early 60s with his series of Poe adaptations staring Vincent Price United Artists decided this was a good bandwagon to jump on. Twice-Told Tales was their answer to Corman’s Tales of Terror – an omnibus movie comprising three tales by a master of American gothic. Not Poe this time, but Nathaniel Hawthorne. Given that Hawthorne also wrote some wonderfully chilling gothic tales, and given that United Artists had secured Vincent Price as the star, you’d think they couldn’t lose.

Unfortunately, Twice-Told Tales just doesn’t quite make it. It looks terrific, with some glorious chocolate-box Technicolor cinematography, but the end result is disappointingly bland. Robert E. Kent’s screenplay lacks the sparkle of Richard Matheson’s screenplay for Corman, and director Sidney Salkow has neither Corman’s visual flair nor his instinct for pacing. The sets, although attractive enough, are also not especially inspired. There’s nothing wrong with Vincent Price’s performances (he appears in all three stories) but he’s really the only reason for watching this movie.

Another problem is that the characters portrayed by Price are all relatively straightforward villains. In the Corman Poe movies he had the opportunity to play more ambiguous characters, characters who were sometimes as much the victim as the villain, so while his performances were extravagant enough to be delightfully entertaining they also had a certain amount of depth, a depth that is completely lacking in Twice-Told Tales.

The first tale, Dr Heidegger's Experiment, is reasonably successful, with Sebastian Cabot proving an entertaining foil for Price. They’re two old men who accidentally discover the secret of eternal youth, but turning back the clock simply means replaying an old tragedy. Rappaccini’s Daughter is possibly my favourite Hawthorne story, a deliciously twisted little tale about a poisonous (literally poisonous) young woman. This screen version sadly falls very flat, and fails to capture any of the subtlety of the original tale. It isn’t helped by some exceptionally dreary performances by the supporting cast. The third tale is based on Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables, but the adaptation is too obvious and the ghostly effects too clumsy. In both this one and Rappaccini’s Daughter there’s a lack of any real chills, and it’s difficult to feel any real sense of tragedy or to care what happens to any of the protagonists.

On the plus side the DVD release comes as part of a two-movie package in MGM’s Midnite Movies range (paired with the much better Tales of Terror), it’s fairly inexpensive, the DVD transfer is superb, and Vincent Price can never be accused of dullness. It’s worth buying in order to get Tales of Terror, and it does provide some entertainment.

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