Sidney Salkow, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Joyce Taylor, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey
Based on the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, this film was a somewhat cheap attempt by United Artists to cash in on the Roger Corman and Vincent Price anthology film, Tales of Terror, which came out the year before for American International Pictures and was based on the worked by Edgar Allen Poe. Twice-Told Tales, named after a Hawthorne collection, is made up of three of his most famous stories: “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” “Rappachini’s Daughter,” and “House of the Seven Gables.” Twenty years prior, a very young Vincent Price starred in a feature length adaptation of House of Seven Gables (1940) alongside George Sanders.
Directed by Sidney Salkow, who soon after worked with Price again on the superior Last Man on Earth, Twice Told Tales is an average film that is best viewed only by Price aficionados or anthology fanatics. The first story, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," tells of two men, Carl and Alex (Price), who discover a liquid that has the ability to restore life. They revive Carl's wife, who died years before on their wedding night due to a sudden illness. She is successfully awakened, but Carl comes to discover that Alex and his fiancee were involved in an affair. They fight and Alex accidentally kills Carl. The liquid, as it turns out, is not permanent. Can Alex reverse the damage?
The best or at least most beautiful segment, "Rappaccini's Daughter," is also one of my favorite Hawthorne tales. Rappaccini is a talented scientist with a beautiful daughter that he keeps hidden away from the rest of the world. A young man sees her over his garden wall and falls in love. He becomes determined for them to be together, but then discovers Rappaccini's horrible secret. His daughter is contaminated with a toxin and must regularly be given a potion to keep her alive and from harming anyone accidentally.
"House of the Seven Gables" is probably the most famous Hawthorne story, but worst segment of this anthology, as the plot is far too sprawling for a short film version. Pyncheon (Price) is suffering from a generations-old family curse that involves ghosts, revenge, and buried treasure. When he returns to his ancestral home, the titular House of the Seven Gables, his wife begins having dreams and memories that are not her own and Pyncheon thinks he finally holds the key to the treasure.
Though there are some entertaining and worthwhile moments, it’s difficult to recommend Twice-Told Tales. "Dr Heidegger's Experiment" is kind of slow and silly. "Rappaccini's Daughter" fails to capture the true tragedy or horror of the story and I would love to see a well made feature length version rather than this short. "House of the Seven Gables" was sadly outright boring. It is a dramatically cropped version of Hawthorne’s story and included bits and pieces from the novel. As a result, the plot suffers and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Though Hawthorne is great at New England Gothic, he isn't a horror writer, which this anthology expresses in spades. There is a lot of creepy atmosphere, but very little actual chills or scares. Twice-Told Tales is worth watching if you love Price, but his various performances are certainly the main attraction. He introduces each segment via narration and also stars in each. There are also performances from Sebastian Cabot (The Sword and the Stone, The Jungle Book), Brett Halsey (Return of the Fly), Beverly Garland (It Conquered the World, The Alligator People), and Richard Denning (Some Like It Hot). It does also boast some lovely and colorful cinematography from Ellis W. Carter (The Incredible Shrinking Man).