Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jay's Movie of the Week #2: The Tell-Tale Heart (1960) and The Oval Portrait (1972)

Second week of 2013 means it's time for a double-feature that's only a half-stinker...

This double-feature of The Tell-Tale Heart (1960) and The Oval Portrait (1972, aka One Minute Before Death) is a no-frills DVD with two truly awful prints, constantly damaged with holes and scratches, and some liner notes by Tim Lucas that actually elevate this package to "worth considering." One of these movies is worth a watch, the other you shouldn't press play on without being in an altered state. It should be easy to guess which is which...

The Tell-Tale Heart

First off, a racy-for-1960 British adaptation of the far-too-often-filmed old chestnut, The Tell-Tale Heart, which turns the story about guilt into a turgid little love triangle with the coke-snorting Edgar in love with Betty, who prefers his buddy Carl. These are some of the most blandly-named characters in history. No offense to you, dear reader, if your name is one of those... or you're in a love triangle with two of those. If you are, I definitely hope for your sake that it's spicier than the one in this movie.)

What is spicy here is Edgar's collection of naughty prints that he comes home and looks at after striking out at the local pub. He's also a peeper, hanging out and watching Betty (Adrienne Corri) in the window across the way, brushing her hair in her underthings. Boy's got some issues. He's a bit of a perv, though, in his defense, she's got some ridiculously complicated foundation garments for a flower shop gal. They take a crack at dating but he's just too awkward. He also makes the mistake of introducing her to his cock-blocking buddy, Carl. He's much suaver than Edgar, so you really can't blame her... though Edgar's so obviously so off-kilter you figure she'd be a little more wary of setting him off. Also, the fact that he all but shoves her into Carl's arms doesn't help, either, and Edgar's very presence becomes torturous. However, Carl does steal his buddy's girl, so for that he has to die.

Of course, this racy first half is followed by a bit of a turgid slog through the second as guilt overtakes Edgar and he hears "the beating of his hideous heart," which we even get to see at one point. All in all, it's all tame and tortured, but this isn't bad for a night in if you want to watch something explicitly old-fashioned. Just do it more for the simple pleasure than the hipster irony of that act.

The Oval Portrait (One Minute Before Death) is a seriously overripe, pot-boiling pile of piffle and nonsense. It feels like an Andy Milligan movie filled with bad period costumes and degraded, damaged film stock. Two ornately dressed, dubbed actresses are dropped off at a country manse in the middle of a storm and then it's 20 minutes before anything happen that even remotely resembles making sense. This is followed by a portrait, oddly enough oval, that we get to see fade into a decayed body, and then be the subject of some of the worst rack zooms in the history of making films, so we know this painting must be important... and this movie must be crap.

Lisa, the middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother rattle around a Civil War era mansion belonging to Lisa's brother. He's evidently died, but relationships and reasons make little sense in this flick. Lisa immediately runs into an odd man trying to work out relationship issues with a wig in a chair that's standing in for the ghost we saw earlier. He was obsessed with Rebecca, the former lady of the house. (Evidently, this must be Manderlay.) Lisa winds up possessed by the good lady ghost while characters who make no sense come and go, including her!

Silly effects, a sillier story, performances that are not so much overcooked as parboiled and poached, and some truly annoying editing make The Oval Portrait a downright pain in the ass to watch.

Originally reviewed for Exploitation Retrospect.

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