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Friday, March 11, 2016

(NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE'S) TWICE TOLD TALES (1963)

Three creepy stories from Nathaniel Hawthorne, all introduced & starring Vincent Price, are collected in this half-hearted try by United Artists to crash the low-end horror film market then being dominated by Roger Corman @ American International Pictures & British-based Hammer Films. Visually cramped when they’re meant to be claustrophobic; wet when we want ‘camp’; dull instead of ominous; only our collective ‘need-to-know’ gene, the DNA that says ‘open that door/what’s going to happen next’ keeps us watching. The first two stories are both about potions: one for youth; one a contagion of poison. Neither exactly thrums with moviemaking panache under routine megger Sidney Salkow. A shame on the second tale which intriguingly echoes Victor Hugo’s LE ROI S’AMUSE* (the source of Verdi’s RIGOLETTO). The rhythm perks up a tad on THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES, played as a straight haunted house/buried treasure morality piece. (Price, playing a different role, was also in the very free adaptation of 1940 from German ex-pat Joe May.) The models & effects are on the tacky side, but some blood-dripping walls are 'the dope.’ Perhaps the pic would play better by watching only one story at a time. At two hours, saving the best for last isn't enough to keep things from sagging.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Too-literate-for-his-own-good writer/director/producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz got off the worst pun in Hollywood history when he was an M-G-M exec trying to defend some inexplicable decision made by fellow studio producer/director Mervyn LeRoy. Questioned on what LeRoy’s rationale might have been on some long forgotten decision, Mankiewicz promptly came up with the likely cause: LeRoy s’amuse.

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