The Tell-Tale Heart (1941)

Article 1910 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-7-2007
Posting Date: 11-4-2006
Directed by Jules Dassin
Featuring Joseph Schildkraut, Roman Bohnen, Oscar O’Shea

A young man kills his older guardian and attempts to hide the body, but is haunted by the sound of the old man’s heart.

I have no real problem with this adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe story; in fact, it’s the best adaptation I’ve seen of it to date. Joseph Schildkraut is intense and memorable in the role of the killer, the cinematography and direction are excellent, and, being a short, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I do find myself reflecting a little, though, on the reasons for a certain change I’ve noticed in this and at least one other version of the story. In both this version and the one in LEGEND OF HORROR , the character of the old man is changed from kindly to bad-tempered and mean. I suspect this has to do with the language of film being different from the language of prose. The original story is all told from the point of view of the killer, and the thought processes that he undergoes and the obsessions that dominate him wouldn’t be easy to translate without endless voice-over narration. Other changes are more obvious; the story itself is a lot grislier than could be reflected by the cinema of the time. It’s always interesting to see how various filmmakers try to deal with the challenge of this story.

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