Archive for July 1969

Spirits of the Dead

July 23, 1969

In one of the more intriguing ideas for an anthology film, three heavy hitters of the ’60s — Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini — each took a whack at short fiction by Edgar Allan Poe. It could be subtitled “Cruel Rich People Get Their Comeuppance.”

Vadim’s “Metzengerstein” is mainly notable for Jane Fonda (then Vadim’s wife) looking great in a variety of amazing costumes (she wears something different in every scene). Jane is a vicious countess who falls in love with her cousin (Peter Fonda), who comes back to life as a black stallion after she inadvertently has him killed. It’s pretty dull. Fortunately, the next two are better.

Malle’s “William Wilson” casts Alain Delon as the titular bastard, whose despicable acts have been tracked since childhood by someone with the same name. Fascinatingly nasty, with an extended card game between Delon and the equally arrogant Brigitte Bardot that provides the best-sustained sequence of suspense in the whole anthology.

Last is Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” based on (or, more accurately, suggested by or inspired by) “Never Bet the Devil Your Head.” Terence Stamp is the movie star Toby Dammit, a drunken mess who’s come to Italy to star in a film recasting the story of Christ as a Western (that right there is one of the funnier things I’ve heard in a movie lately, prefiguring as it did El Topo). Toby barely gets through a televised interview and award ceremony, and is haunted by the Devil in the form of a little girl. He hops into his new Ferrari and meets pretty much the same end as Poe’s Toby Dammit. Plotless but a lot of fun, with a great Stamp performance partly ruined by someone else’s French dialogue dubbed over his voice. Indeed, the dubbing throughout is patchy; in “Metzengerstein” Jane Fonda’s lips sometimes match the French words and sometimes are way off. Definitely worth a look for fans of the involved directors and of Poe, though such fans probably already own it.