1 December 2003 | mark.waltz
Feature-length film which seems more like an over-long short!
I was excited to locate this movie on the Fox Movie Channel after looking for it for years on the late show and AMC. After reading Poe's works and seeing the much-altered film versions starring Vincent Price, I was sure this film would be a winner. However, why 20th Century Fox wasted 67 minutes on this film and made it look like an expanded episode from the MGM John Nesbitt Passing Parade Shorts is beyond me. It really seemed like a good idea to make a bio pic of Edgar Allan Poe, but this was not the way to do it. Edgar Allan Poe apparently had a life as interesting as his classic poems, but 20th Century Fox did not seem to care to take his story beyond "B-pic" level. John Sheppherd (later known as Shepperd Strudwick, veteran of daytime soaps) isn't all that bad as Poe, but this overly-narrated bio didn't really give him a chance to really delve into Poe's darkside. From his early years as an orphan with a kindly foster mother and jealous foster father to his ill-fated romance with a wealthy socialite, to his marriage to his own cousin (Linda Darnell, given top billing, but wasted here), Poe's life could have been expanded and given more detail. While "less is more" in some cases, this needed to be given less over-the-action narration and more character development. There is nothing to suggest why he fell in love with his own cousin or why he was considered an outcast by his foster father and ultimately society.
Jane Darwell, as his aunt and future mother-in-law, has the best acting moments in the film; This was right from her Academy Award Winning appearance in "The Grapes of Wrath", and obviously Fox wanted to play on her success. Linda Darnell was one of Fox's most over exposed stars, and only gave a few interesting performances. (Watch 1948's "Unfaithfully Yours" and 1949's "Everybody Does It" to see her at her best). It would have made more sense to cast the rising Gene Tierney in that part, as she could act as well as be beautiful. Mary Howard is simply way too young to be convincing as the foster mother who raises young Edgar Allen Poe; By the time he is an adult, their relationship seems more incestuous than loving. In real life, Ms. Howard was five years younger than Mr. Sheppherd! Frank Conroy is appropriately cold as Howard's husband, but his pairing with Ms. Howard just made me cringe as he aged and she remained fairly young and alluring. An interesting touch is the presence of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dickens in single scenes with Sheppherd.
John Sheppherd (Strudwick) would have better luck exploring the dark side of a character with his Emmy Nominated role as Vicky's father, Victor, on "One Life to Live" in the mid 1970's, which followed a long stint as patriarch Jim Matthews on "Another World".
While more polished than Universal's series of horror films at the time (this only hints at the horror behind Poe's works), it fails even more because with Universal films of that era, you knew you were not getting gloss and glitter. But, from the studio that was giving us Henry Fonda, Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, and Don Ameche at that time, you would expect a bit more. Maybe some day, Hollywood will give us more than just a passing glimpse into the life of one of the greatest American literary figures ever.