Laurence Payne ... Edgar Marsh
Adrienne Corri ... Betty Clare
Dermot Walsh ... Carl Loomis
Selma Vaz Dias ... Mrs. Vine, housekeeper
Country: UK Runtime: 78 min AKA:The Hidden Room of 1,000 Horrors
Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories have been an inspiration for horror and suspense films, ever since the dawn of cinema. The Tell-Tale Heart has been translated into film countless times, as early as D. W. Griffith’s The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill', which was loosely based on said story. Today I will be reviewing Ernest Morris’ version from 1960.
Edgar Marsh is a shy, young recluse with seedy habits. He works as a librarian and lives alone, spending his free time snorting crack, leering at girls at the saloon and perusing his stag picture collection on lonely nights. The character is played competently by Lawrence Payne. Betty Clare is new in town and takes up residence at the adjoining apartment building. Edgar is often sick and depressed but makes an effort to peep out his window into Betty’s room as she undresses. He fancies the girl and asks his best friend Carl for tips on how to woo her. He musters the courage to ask her to a dinner date. Betty pities Edgar and hangs out with him simply because she’s new in town and doesn’t know anyone yet. But things will change when at a club Edgar introduces her to Carl. Edgar is eager to show off his arm candy. He tells Betty naively, "Everyone likes Carl", this turns out to be quite true.
Betty falls in love with Carl at first glance. He is so much different than her current male friend. He is worldly and confidant, where Edgar is awkward and pedestrian. Carl and Betty dance and Edgar is not privy to those subtle sparks between them. I don’t think he could ever imagine a betrayal. One particular night Betty invites Carl to her bedroom to know him better but Edgar’s voyeurism reveals the shocking truth. As he looks out his window, his broken heart also burns with bitterness, a raging anger that will lead him to murder his best friend.
The very next evening he calls for Carl to come to him. He shows his friend the view from his window. Carl becomes aware that his sexual exploits from the previous night weren’t as private as he would have liked. Edgar rises from his armchair and strikes Carl over the head with a fire poker. He beats him repeatedly until the poker is bent and his closest friend is dead. After a few days Betty becomes worried and goes to the police. It is not long before she begins to suspect Edgar was involved in Carl’s disappearance. They don’t believe her so she breaks into Edgar’s home to look for evidence.
Edgar starts to go mad. The corpse is hidden under the floorboards, probably not a good place. Edgar hears leaky faucets, clocks ticking…and a heartbeat! His frail mind is prey to the horrible truth of his misdeed. The heartbeats become unbearable so he rips the floorboards out and carves the heart out of the lifeless body. The bloody organ beats in his hands. He buries it outside and goes back to sleep, not much less troubled though.
Betty had come across the fire poker used in the murder while she was rummaging through Edgar’s home. She brings it to the police and they notice it has a hair and a little bit of dried human blood on it. They go to see Edgar and during the questioning that damned heartbeat starts up again. Convinced that every one else can hear it too Edgar confesses to his crime.
This was a fair portrayal of a disturbed individual and how deep into the darkness one can sink. I am not a super Poe fan but I did enjoy this version of his famous short story. This film was included on a DVD as a double feature of Poe flicks along with The Oval Portrait (1972), released by Independent Entertainment/Alternative Cinema. The DVD comes with thorough linear notes (as an insert) written by Tim Lucas. These tales are a perfect companion to a rainy night, which is how I saw it.