A little over a year ago I promised that I would watch the 1915 film of The Raven and give you a report. I haven't forgotten--just haven't been in the mood to watch a silent film. (Here, by the way, is a link to that early posting.) I had just seen the (bad) Poe film with John Cusak (also called The Raven) and had written some about it.
I finally watched it on Tuesday night (Joyce was out of town ... what else is there to do?); although I saw it on DVD, I discovered later that the entire film is online. The quality of the available print of the film is not all that good (why would it be? 1915!) But two things really surprised me: (1) the effort of the filmmakers (at Essanay--Chaplin was working there at the time: what a Poe he would have made!) to stick to the facts of Poe's life (with some errors); (2) the special effects--which were actually effective and even moving at times. There's a long section about the composition of "The Raven," a process they show as some sort of waking vision by Poe, alone in his study--though an actual bird appears later on and actually sits upon the bust of Pallas, just above his chamber door. We also see much of the text of the poem in a series of title cards.
- George Cochran Hazelton wrote the novel--The Raven: The Love Story of Edgar Allan Poe (1909), and then transformed that into a stage play (same title).
- Charles J. Brabin wrote the script and directed. He also did The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Beast of the City, and Sporting Blood.
- Henry B. Walthall played Poe--he'd also been in The Birth of a Nation.
Here's a quick list of some of the plot points:
- The film begins with Poe's ancestors stepping ashore in America for the first time.
- Then we see his grandfather David Poe running off to fight in the Revolution. (He was involved, though not really as a warrior.)
- Next--we see his parents acting on the stage--both were stage actors, she much more accomplished than he.
- We see Liza Poe (his mother) dying of consumption--a fundraiser held in her behalf by her colleagues--Frances Allan (Mrs. John Allan) arriving to help. All true.
- We see, briefly, Poe's sister, Rosalie, though she quickly departs; we never see or learn a thing, though, about his brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, who later published poems himself.
- We see the crusty John Allan, reluctant to adopt the orphan--but yielding to his wife's entreaties.
- Fifteen years whirl by in a few frames. Poe now drinks, gambles, loses. We don't really see him at the University of Virginia--though John Allan does get a note from the university about Edgar's gambling debts.
- We see the courtship of his cousin Virginia Clemm. Virginia's mother, Maria Poe Clemm (Edgar's aunt), looks just like the actual images I've seen of her. The marriage ...
- We see a dejected Poe unable to sell his stories--and the resultant poverty. Well, Poe sold just about everything he wrote--but he never got much money for it (less than $20 for "The Raven").
- We see poor Virginia dying in their house in Fordham--which looks a lot like the actual one. And then her death.
- The final image is not Poe's death--but an eerie view of him mourning at his wife's tomb.
Special effects--double-exposures work effectively as images appear and disappear before his eyes. Memories and flashbacks. Tracking shots. I was really surprised at the sophistication.
And surprisingly moved by the end--a stark image of a grieving man who has just lost all ...