RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES celebrates the rediscovery of a lost gem from British horror’s back pages. Stanley Baker is Edgar Allen Poe in 1953’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
Since I took a look at five missing British horror films back in June 2014, I’m delighted to say that three of those films have been found.
Symptoms was tracked down and made its Blu-ray debut in 2016, while 2018 has seen the Hammer horror/comedy The Ugly Duckling turn up in the vaults, and appear on television for the first time in many years courtesy of Talking Pictures TV.
Adding to the list of rediscoveries is the very welcome reappearance of this little gem, thought lost until film collector Jeff Wells, who had picked up a 16mm print in a Brighton junk shop in 1984, unearthed it in his loft in Drunmore, Scotland, in 2017.
The Tell-Tale Heart found in loft in Scotland
Astonishingly, he was apparently quite willing to sell it on Ebay for £5 before realising that the British Film Institute was desperately trying to track it down!
Produced by Adelphi Films and released in 1953, this adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart takes the novel approach of transporting us back to 1843, to the writer’s room, as Stanley Baker portrays Edgar Allan Poe himself, acting out his tale of murder, dismemberment and the ultimate undoing of the perpetrator, whilst simultaneously writing it down for posterity.
Baker had performed the story in a one-man-show in the same year the 20-minute film was produced, so it’s fairly safe to assume that the film was very much conceived to capture the very essence of that stage presentation.
Director J.B. Williams (who was usually employed as a writer) penned the screenplay, but the words are very much Poe’s own.
The film was made on a single set at the Kay Carlton Hill studio, a tiny one-stage operation in Maida Vale which ran between the late 1940s and early 1960s.
Williams turns the small set-up to the film’s advantage, capturing the claustrophobic feel of Poe’s somewhat dilapidated lodgings. The viewer really gets a feel for the environment in which Poe must have worked.
This is also a fascinating piece for capturing one of Britain’s great actors in the ascendancy.
Stanley Baker became a star with his role in The Cruel Sea, released earlier in the year.
He went on to become one of Britain’s best-loved character actors before his tragically early death, at the age of just 48 in 1976. He was awarded a posthumous knighthood that year.
In that light, The Tell-Tale Heart is an invaluable record of a great talent, performing alone and carrying this most potent of narratives in a truly captivating manner.
At the time of writing, The Tell-Tale Heart is available to watch for free on the BFI Player for a two-week period from October 26th 2018. Catch it while you can.
TRIVIA NOTE: The same year saw a short, Oscar-nominated animated version, produced by the UPA studio (of Mr Magoo fame) and narrated by James Mason. This is also essential viewing for Poe fans.