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Sunday
Apr272008

Silent Poe

I just finished watching a bio film of Edgar Allan Poe from 1915 entitled The Raven, directed by Charles878004-1523044-thumbnail.jpg
Walthall in The Birth of a Nation
Brabin and starring Henry B. Walthall as Poe.  The title card read: The Raven (a romance of Edgar Allan Poe by George C. Hazleton.  Founded upon Mr. Hazleton's widely known novel and play).  Although the film plays fast and loose with the Poe's life, there are some fine scenes, especially the one depicting his time at the University of Virginia, inspired here by Poe's doppelganger story "William Wilson."  In the movie, Poe becomes a drunkard at school and hallucinates a card game in which he plays against himself, is cheated and challenges his self to a duel.  He kills himself and the dead Poe vanishes along with the spectators.   "The Raven" poem is also dramatized as a drink-inspired hallucination with some cool double-exposure special effects.  Of course a black cat makes an appearance ('cause you can't have a Poe film without a black cat showing up) when Poe places one on the chest of his dying wife, Virginia (Was he just trying to keep her warm?  Or was there some sinister idea here?) 

This is the Poe as tormented drunken genius, however, the movie also plays out as a poverty melodrama, with Poe unable to sell his manuscripts to support his family.  One curious element: Helen Whitman makes an appearance (played by the same actress, Warda Howard, who also plays Virgina, the spirit of Lenore and some kind of heavenly angel), but Poe doesn't meet her in the film.  I wonder if footage has been lost.  The IMDB page lists the original runtime as 57 mins, but the DVD runs 45 mins.  I'm not sure how accurate run times are with old silent films, but something definitely seems missing here.  Another curious element: Poe rescues a slave being beaten by a cruel owner and the eye-rolling, black-faced, unnamed slave remains loyal to Poe to the very end. 

Watch this if you get a chance.  There are some arresting visuals and a great score.  I'm glad I watched a copy from Netflix even though I already own a copy as a special feature on Mark Redfield's The Death of Poe DVD set, because the film score on the Netflix one is much better than the original one on Redfield's.  Redfield's version does provide an excellent (although rambling) audio commentary for the film and his set also contains The Avenging Conscience, another film starring Walthall, based upon Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," that has been called "the first psychological horror movie."  I'll be watching that one next. 

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