Twice-Told Tales

by Charlie Largent Sep 24, 2022

Twice-Told Tales
Kino Lorber
1963 / 1.66: 1 / 120 Min.
Starring Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Joyce Taylor
Written by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Sidney Salkow

Released in October of 1963, the first review of Sidney Salkow’s Twice-Told Tales appeared in 1623: “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.” That line from Shakespeare’s King John is a nice summation of Salkow’s horror anthology, an undernourished melodrama that finds its salvation in, no surprise, the reliably entertaining Vincent Price.

Nathaniel Hawthorne used that Shakespearean quip as the title of his own collection of reprinted material, published in March of 1837. The book had a cover price of one dollar, which might have been close to the budget for Salkow’s movie—a remarkably cheap-looking production, even for Admiral Pictures. The company, headed by Grant Whytock with funding from Edward Small, specialized in cutting corners—they even worked their chintzy magic on Roger Corman’s Tower of London, which looks barren compared to the director’s opulent Poe films. Robert E. Kent was the producer of Twice-Told Tales, and also its screenwriter—his adaptations of the original Hawthorne short stories have a 20th Century sensibility, the quirky ironies of O. Henry mixed with a Twilight Zone episode (and there the similarities end).

There are three tales in all, each introduced by Price, only one of which—Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment—appeared in Hawthorne’s original book. Heidegger remained popular well into the 20th Century; transformed into a radio play starring John McIntire as the titular professor, a 1979 chamber opera called Dr. Heidegger’s Fountain of Youth, and an episode of Lights Out broadcast on November 20, 1950, starring Billie Burke, Gene Lockhart, and Tom Poston. It’s also the first entry in Salkow’s film.

Vincent Price stars as over-the-hill playboy Alex Medbourne, and Mari Blanchard is Sylvia Ward, a long-dead woman who went to her grave guarding a few awkward secrets. Sebastian Cabot plays Carl Heidegger, a benevolent old gent who discovers a new lease on life in the most unusual place; Sylvia’s tomb. Thanks to a mysterious wellspring that has flooded her mausoleum, she seems preserved in amber, looking as youthful as the day she died. The professor and  Medbourne use the miracle water to rejuvenate themselves, and then turn their attention to Sylvia—still glamorous but unfortunately, still dead. And as Herbert West could tell you, reanimating a corpse is never the best idea.

The melancholy mood of the story, the reassuring presence of Price and Cabot, and the film’s brief running time make Heidegger a pleasant if extremely forgettable diversion—though Kent’s overripe dialog must have exhausted the cast’s funny bones.

Rappaccini’s Daughter was published in 1844 and like Heidegger’s Experiment, its morbid fairy tale atmosphere inspired several adaptations; operas, radio plays, and two televised versions: a Lights Out episode starring Eli Wallach, and a 1980 installment of PBS’s American Short Story starring Kathleen Beller. Price is Rappaccini, an Italian scientist who curates a garden of poisonous flowers—the most beautiful of those blooms is his own daughter Beatrice, a lonely woman whose touch can kill—a deal-breaker for most suitors.

Rappacicini’s Daughter has a faintly perverse undertow reminiscent of Grimm’s Rapunzel, another story about a young beauty held captive by a determined adult—it’s the one entry in Twice-Told Tales that manages to keep its head above water in spite of Salkow’s flat direction, Kent’s rotten dialog, and the uninspired settings. Price’s reserved line readings give his one-note character a hint of gravitas and Joyce Taylor, who had a brief film career after laboring under contract at RKO (i.e. laboring under Howard Hughes), gives a graceful and intelligent performance—her clashes with Price reveal what’s really going on here: she understands his protective nature is fueled more by jealousy than love.

The House of the Seven Gables was the subject of several adaptations, including a 1940 film starring Price and Margaret Lindsay, and a 1961 episode of Shirley Temple’s Storybook starring Shirley, Robert Culp, Agnes Moorehead, and Martin Landau. The 1940 film was a tame melodrama sparked by a superb performance from Lindsay but Kent’s adaptation gallops in the opposite direction, turning the story of a family curse and a vengeful ghost into a barnstorming horror film with floating skeletons and pickaxe murders. Salkow removes the leash that restrained Price in the first two stories and the result is one of the more bug-eyed performances in the actor’s career. It’s not boring, we’ll give it that.

Cinematographer Ellis W. Carter, Universal’s go-to man for a memorable string of science fiction thrillers including The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Monolith Monsters, did the best he could with the unimaginative sets by Franz Bachelin (Carter faced the same problem on Reginald Le Borg ‘s Diary of A Madman, another low-budget spookfest produced by Admiral.)

Kino Lorber’s “special edition” of Twice-Told Tales appears to be the same transfer as their release from 2015, which is just fine, it looks terrific. The disc features the same feature-length commentary from Richard Harland Smith and Perry Martin—the only difference in this “special edition” is an extra heaping-helping of trailers for Vincent Price films (the first edition featured only three.)

Here’s Mick Garris on Twice-Told Tales:

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