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Twice-Told Tales, 1963

From the DVD case: Twice-Told Tales spins three gripping, diabolical nightmares of madness, mayhem, and murder most foul!

Vincent Price stars in all three stories, including “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” about a scientist who finds the fountain of youth and lives to regret it; “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the twisted tale of a demented father whose love for his daughter turns poisonous; and “The House of Seven Gables,” the ghostly legend of an ancient cursed family who lived for power and died for greed! (1963, color)

Mark says: Twice-Told Tales is such an obvious attempt by MGM to cash in on the success AIP had with Roger Corman’s Poe series that it is almost embarrassing. Just the year before (1962) AIP released Tales of Terror, a film highlighting three tales by Edgar Allan Poe, with each story featuring Vincent Price as the connecting actor.

In Twice-Told Tales, we are treated to three tales adapted from stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne (the title is taken from his short story collection of the same name), and, again, Vincent Price (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Pit and the Pendulum) serves as the common actor in all three segments. Just a coincidence? I think not.

With movies such as Twice-Told Tales, it is customary to discuss how true (or untrue) the film is to the writer’s original vision. I have to admit that I am not a stickler on this. If a producer/director takes a work of literature, modifies it, and does it in an interesting fashion, I’m not too concerned about the faithfulness to the source material. I suppose if I were the writer I might feel differently, but having the luxury of being a simple viewer, I’m not overly distressed. After all, a movie is not a piece of literature.

Take note, though, the key to my postulation is that the film adaptation has to remain interesting. If the story is modified in such a way as to make it dull, or primary themes are distorted (or completely removed) that made the story work in the first place, then I give the filmmakers a resounding “Booooo!” Twice-Told Tales is sometimes guilty of this offense.

I will discuss each story separately:

Dr Heidegger’s Experiment: This tale of two old friends who discover a type of youth elixir, which also brings the corpse of an old fiance back to life, is more reminiscent of a Poe story than a work penned by Hawthorne.

Vincent Price and Sebastian Cabot (The Time Machine) play the two friends, with Cabot in the role of Dr. Heidegger. Price portrays Alex Medbourne, a seemingly good friend to the doctor, but who is ultimately exposed as a cad and a murderer.

Mari Blanchard (Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, She Devil) is Sylvia Ward, the resurrected corpse, formerly engaged to Dr. Heidegger. She was also Alex’s secret lover. We learn that Alex, unable to bear the thought of Sylvia as someone else’s bride, poisoned her the night before her marriage.

Dr. Heidegger has mourned Sylvia for nearly 40 years, and when he discovers his friend’s betrayal, attempts to obtain vengeance. Coincidentally, we learn (in a rather dramatic fashion) that the effects of the elixir are only temporary.

Hawthorne’s work varies tremendously from the film’s adaptation. The original story is a skillfully crafted morality tale about three aging men and a woman who have lived selfish lives. The elixir originates from Ponce de Leon’s famed Fountain of Youth, not from a mysterious leak found in a crypt as featured in the movie. In Hawthorne’s story, no one is resurrected from the dead, hence, there is no scene where a bride turns into a skeleton (see image above).

I have to admit that this sequence held my attention, even though it is an extremely distorted (perhaps, butchered) version of the original tale.

Joyce Taylor in Twice Told TalesRappaccini’s Daughter: Vincent Price plays Giacomo Rappaccini, the demented father of a beautiful daughter, Beatrice (Joyce Taylor).

Rappaccini, having been betrayed by his wife, injects his daughter with toxins from a treacherous plant, making her toxic to the world. Everything Beatrice touches withers and dies. Without regular injections of the poison, Beatrice herself will perish. Rappaccini believes this treatment will prevent her from “committing sin.”

Unfortunately, her father’s cure for sin also makes Beatrice a very lonely and unhappy woman. This proves especially true when Giovanni Guasconti comes into her life. Giovanni, played by Brett Halsey (Return of The Fly, The Atomic Submarine), is a young student who falls madly in love with Beatrice upon seeing and talking to her from his balcony. Beatrice is tortured by her love for the young man, and by the knowledge that a simple embrace or kiss will kill him.

Rappaccini, in an attempt to regain his daughter’s respect and bring her some happiness, subjects Giovanni to the same poisonous “treatment.” This way the lovers can be with each other, and only each other. Giovanni tries to find a cure for their condition which leads to the tragic conclusion.

Of the three tales, Rappaccini’s Daughter is the most true to Hawthorne’s story. Perhaps this is why this sequence is often cited as the best of the collection.

The House of the Seven Gables: This segment is actually based on Hawthorne’s novel of the same name, not a short story.

Hastily constructed from elements of the novel, this episode suffers the most from shoddy film-making. While Hawthorne’s novel is ambiguous about the supernatural elements of his story, the film adaptation is full of haunted house cliches, including a detached skeleton hand which floats from a wall safe to strangle Gerald Pyncheon (Price).

Vincent Price in Twice Told TalesPerhaps to make up for the lackluster storytelling, House of Seven Gables is the bloodiest of the tales. Blood flows liberally from walls, ceilings, a painting, and a picture locket. There’s even a scene where Price is practically finger-painting with the gory substance. Unfortunately, the Technicolor blood does not lift this piece from its doldrums.

Hawthorne’s thoughtful novel is reduced to a fairly standard haunted house story involving a curse and a hidden treasure map. Floyd Simmons (The Deadly Mantis) as the ghost of Mathew Maulle is positively laughable.

Look for Beverly Garland (The Alligator People, It Conquered the World) as Alice Pyncheon; Richard Denning (The Black Scorpion, Target Earth) as Jonathan Maulle, and Gene Roth (Attack of the Giant Leeches, Earth vs the Spider) in a brief appearance as the cab man. That’s Jacqueline deWit playing Gerald’s witchy sister, Hannah, who gets a pick ax through the forehead.

None of the stories featured in Twice-Told Tales are particularly well-paced. This isn’t terribly annoying through the beginning segments of the picture, because the stories themselves keep our interest. However, as the film progresses, we become more restless. By the final segment we’re at the verge of boredom, and then that final tale pushes us over the brink.

Though I still harbor a fondness for Twice-Told Tales (at least portions of it) I prefer the AIP Poe series with its superior direction to this copy-cat MGM production. As usual, it’s Vincent Price that keeps me hanging on.

Twice-Told Tales is directed by Sidney Salkow (The Last Man on Earth).

Scene to watch for: Rappaccini’s science not only makes his daughter poisonous, but it turns guinea pigs, bugs, and lizards purple.

Line to listen for: “It’s strange seeing flowers that weren’t meant to kill.”

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

7 Comments

  1. Mark, I was 10 when this film first came to my local theater and I felt I was well prepared for the shock feast that was to come. You see, I had purchased the Dell comic book adaptation of the film and knew the basic plots that would take place. However, I didn’t realise that Dell was, no doubt, restricted by the Comics Code Authority, which wouldn’t allow it to be as explicit as the movie. As a result, some of the more gruesome scenes were toned down in the comic book. Although I haven’t seen the comic in decades, I still remember a few differences that made an impact on me while I was watching the film.

    Toward the end of the comic book version of “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” the resurrected bride is shown to decompose gradually through a series of three of four panels, but in the film, the camera abruptly jumps straight to a close-up of the skeleton’s skull. It was an extremely shocking scene. In “The House of Seven Gables,” the scene where Vincent Price kills his sister with a pick is shown in silloette in the comic, but in the movie, the sound of the pick striking a hard surface and then seeing it resting in the woman’s forehead, made me jump in my seat. Also, the comic showed the dripping blood in “tear drop” shapes as apposed to the riverlets of the thick red stuff.

    As prepared as I though I was, this movie threw me a few curves that I wasn’t expecting, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Once again, watching this movie as a child has allowed me to remember it more fondly than I might if I had first seen it as an adult.

  2. Paul: Thanks for relating another great memory! Wow, I wish I could get my hands on that comic. It would be fun to do a comparison-contrast review of the comic and the movie.

  3. Mark: As a child, I used to have a card game called “Authors” which consisted of cards in groups of four for each famous author, each card naming a specific title. Authors represented included Robert Lewis Stevenson, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many others. The object of the game was to collect the complete set of works by each author. The player with the most completed sets was the winner.

    I’m telling you this because two of the titles on the cards for Hawthorne were The House of Seven Gables and Twice Told Tales. I had read an adapted version of The House of Seven Gables in elementary school, but I could never find the book Twice Told Tales in order to read the other two stories, which appeared in the film. Over the years I would occasionally look for that book, but was never able to locate it. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I was able to read Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment and Rappaccini’s Daughter on a literature web site.

    Then, just last week, I nearly fell over when I discovered a paperback version of Twice Told Tales at a local Goodwill Store. The book cost me 50 cents. There are 36 stories in all, but the only story from this collected works to be represented in the film is Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. After over 40 years, I finally ran across the one book that I never really thought I would ever find. In a sense, it was like finding the Holy Grail. Now I just need to take the time to read it.

  4. Paul: Wow, what a great card game for a child! To think I wasted my childhood playing “Old Maid!” Really, I’m impressed. It sounds like a game I would enjoy as an adult, too.

    I’ve never read Twice Told Tales, and now I’m curious. I read a lot of “required Hawthorne” in high school and college, but didn’t really seek out much outside of school. Strange, as I was/am fascinated by the man and his works. Now I have another book to pencil in on my “need to read list.” Thanks!

  5. Mark: Just a quick (possibly boring) note about the edition I bought. Airmont Publishing Company, Inc printed it in 1965. In his introduction, Francis R. Gemme (Chairman of the Department of English, Milford Academy in Milford Connecticut) wrote that “Twice-Told Tales” was a collection of short stories, first published in 1837 and expanded for a second edition in 1842, two years after Poe’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” which was published in 1840. Both works “marked the first significant collections of short stories in American literature.” Poe, himself, reviewed “Twice-Told Tales”; in fact, the very first sentience in the introduction reads “Twice-Told Tales is one of the few books in American literature which caused a book review of it to become more famous than the initial work itself.”

    So far, I have only read the first story, but it did have a supernatural undertone. I am anxious to read the rest. Fortunately most of the stories are under 10 pages, (sort of like a 19th century Reader’s Digest) so it should work out well for me to read each story as I find time.

  6. Not boring at all, Paul. I’m very interested in such “trivia.” I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts after you’ve read the entire book.

  7. Can you please tell me where i can buy the 1963 DVD of the film The house of the seven gables.With thanks Brian


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