Saturday, April 12, 2008

Film #37: The Tell-Tale Heart

Stephen Bosustow's UPA Films had a juggernaut of a run back in the 1950s. From 1949 to 1957, this producer was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning three of them (one year he was nominated for all three awards in his category). Given the short time period, this surely must be a record. Not even Meryl Streep could get these numbers.

During this time, UPA adapted Dr. Seuss's Gerald McBoing-Boing into at least two acclaimed films, turned Ludwig Bemelmans' classic children's book Madeline into a short, and came up with the long-running rich old blind man character Mr. Magoo, which probably made them rich for life. The thing that set UPA Films apart from their contemporaries was their strict art direction and distinctive animation style. Being an independant company, they used a lower frame-rate (that is, number of drawings) to keep costs down, but they made up for it with intricate, radiant backgrounds and detailed directorial choices. This method of work ended up changing popular animation styles around the world (though not always for the better).

In 1953, Bosustow and director Ted Parmalee produced The Tell-Tale Heart, and thereby contributed the single best adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's work to film (the best feature is still Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death). Narrated frantically by James Mason, it is complete dread and bliss all at the same time. What fine colors, and what brave use of the darkness to ilicit fear. And what a faithful adaptation--all of Poe's high points make it in to the script. The Tell-Tale Heart is an incredibly effective example of animation art.

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