A lonely neurotic’s frustrated love leads to torment and murder in “The Tell-Tale Heart”

By on October 17, 2017

Clocking in at just over an hour, this tautly-paced British-made 1960 version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (1960) “lays bare the tormented mind of a lonely neurotic whose frustrated love for a beautiful woman leads only to torment and murder,” according to the film’s original theatrical trailer. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.


This particular black & white film version — long considered one of the better on-screen adaptations of the story, and there have been more than twenty of them so far — cleverly manages to evoke the tense atmosphere found in Edgar Allan Poe’s much-loved short story, which was originally published in January of 1843 in The Pioneer.

Laurence Payne stars here as Edgar Marsh, a mentally-unstable reference librarian, who is shy and sensitive about his physical disabilities, acting timid to the point of it becoming an annoying personality trait.


As it turns out, the chess-playing Marsh is actually obsessed with sex, and perves out over his collection of naughty erotica photos.

He is something of a peeping tom voyeur as well, we learn, as we see him looking out of an upstairs window where he spies on his comely neighbor across the street, Betty Clare (Adrienne Corri, known for her appearances in A Clockwork Orange and “Doctor Who”), who undresses in her bedroom.

It turns out that from his second story bedroom window Marsh can watch Betty stripping down to her unmentionables without being detected.


Read more about The Tell-Tale Heart below.


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Marsh’s lothario friend Carl Loomis (Dermot Walsh) encourages him to meet the pretty flower shop girl, in order to arrange a dinner date with her, which he does, but that’s when the smitten Marsh clearly goes overboard, giving Betty jewelry and talking to her about their future together.

Betty is flattered by his attention, but turned off at his clumsy attempts at getting her into bed.

Doesn’t really matter, though, as she more interested in Edgar’s lady’s man friend Loomis, whom she finds far more attractive and appealing despite the fact that this certified playboy initially resists her advances.


While watching from his second story window, the lovesick Marsh sees his aggressive friend has apparently relented as Carl and Betty are now having sex, which makes Marsh so jealous with rage that he’s driven to murder his best friend with a fireplace poker.

He buries his friend’s bloodied body beneath the floorboards in his piano room (instructing his cleaning lady to avoid the room, which creates suspicion).

Edgar’s overwhelming guilt then leads him to believe that a ticking metronome, and the incessant dripping of a faucet, actually are the sound of his victim’s heart, still beating.

After three days, Betty eventually convinces the police to investigate her new boyfriend’s disappearance, but even if you think you know the end to Poe’s story, you might not know the twist ending that this film version has waiting for you at its climax.


The Tell-Tale Heart was directed by Ernest Morris, from a screenplay by Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, who made small but considerable changes when they adapted Poe’s story.

Morris — who later directed the Mr Moto series of comedy thrillers — had worked for more than twenty years in the British film business, mainly as an assistant director, before getting his chance to direct mostly B-movies (some of them quite good, although he was never mistaken for one of the European auteurs).

Co-writer Brian Clemens — a distant relative to American author Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain — was the writer of the pilot and several early episodes of the popular British TV series “The Avengers,” as well as writing for other popular UK TV shows, but by the late Fifties and early Sixties he was cranking out a lot of B-movie crime/thriller scripts like this one with his writing partner Eldon Howard.


The Tell-Tale Heart is a perfect film to get you in the Halloween mood, and Clemens and Howard’s script is practically dripping with psychological terror and suspense, evoking terror by replacing the story’s narrator’s fixation with an old man’s “evil eye” by focusing instead on Marsh’s deranged obsession with sex, and, after the murder, over his guilty conscience.


This economical black & white film version was produced in England by the Danziger brothers, who specialized in low-budget short features.

The typical Danziger Productions Ltd. budget at the time was about ₤15,000 per film (about $20,000 in current U.S. dollars), but this version was budgeted at a bit higher in order to dress up the sets in 19th Century period setting (although you may be surprised to learn this story actually takes place in France, not England).

This particular version — which opens with a warning for the squeamish, although Poe’s middle name is also misspelled — was readied two years earlier, after Roger Corman had made Poe into a cinematic hot property by releasing a number of films based on Poe’s work.


Its theatrical release was then delayed after Michael Powell’s 1960 Peeping Tom film created a bit of controversy over its own salacious content (it was finally given an “X” certificate).

Morris’s The Tell-Tale Heart eventually hit screens after Alfred Hitchcock’s hugely-successful film Psycho had renewed interest in horror movies for general audiences (and not just horror movie fiends).

Watch The Tell-Tale Heart on Night Flight Plus!


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.