Histoires extraordinaires 1968
2h 1min | Horror, Mystery | 12 September 1968 (Italy)
Three directors each adapt a Poe short story to the screen: “Toby Dammit” features a disheveled drugged and drunk English movie star who nods acceptance in the Italian press and his producers fawn over him. “Metzengerstein” features a Mediveal countess who has a love-hate relationship with a black stallion – who, it turns out is really her dead lover. “William Wilson” tells the story of a sadistic Austrian student with an exact double whom he later kills.
“Spirits of the Dead”(1968) – adaptations of three Edgar Allen Poe stories by three European directors, Roger Vadim’s “Metzengerstein” with Jane and Peter Fonda, Louis Malle’s “William Wilson” (with Alain Delon and Briget Bardout), and Federico Fellini’s “Toby Dammit”. The universal opinion is that only Fellini’s entry is worth watching and it is indeed, spectacular with Terence Stamp fitting so well in the Fellini’s freak show that it is impossible to take your eyes off him. The reason I wanted to see the movie so much was the CD that I bought some time ago – a compilation of some of the most beautiful themes composed by Nino Rota for the films of Federico Fellini. “The Ultimate Best of Federico Fellini & Nino Rota” includes the tunes arranged in the medleys for 16 films directed by Fellini. These are the full orchestrations (as heard in the movies they come from) and just listening to the familiar melodies brings back the memories and the images. There was one track I kept listening to over and over. It was written for the Fellini’s episode in the “Tre passi nel delirio” aka “Spirits of the Dead” (1968), “Toby Dammit”. The soundtrack for “Toby Dammit” simply stands out among the romantic and poetic gems. It is rich, obsessive and creates uneasy and creepy atmosphere which is quite appropriate for an episode that features a desperate actor (Terence Stamp) in a pact with the devil. Besides the score “Toby Dammit” has plenty of great typically Felliniesque images , an unforgettable ending, and not the least, Terence Stamp who might’ve played one of his best roles as the famous English actor, drugged and drunk out of his mind who arrived in Rome for the Italian Film Academy Awards ceremony. Toby was also offered the role of Jesus in the Catholic Western but all he remembered that he had been promised a Ferrari for participating in the ceremony and Ferrari he will get…with the ride to hell that looks exactly like Rome at night where every turn takes you to the dead end and the Devil only knows the way out but you will pay him a price…
I found all three films interesting and involving in their own terms. I don’t agree with the comments that call Vadim’s adaptation a failure – it is certainly not. If anything, it is beautiful to look at and listen to and any film featuring Madam Roger Vadim (Jane Fonda was married to the director at the time) wearing the costumes that were certainly inspired by or even reused from “Barbarella” that was released in the same year, 1968 is worth watching. Vadim changed the short story by transforming a protagonist, 18 years old Baron Frederic Metzengerstein into 22 years old Contessa Frederica but he did not change her character. She is rich, bored, corrupted, and ruthless, a “petty Caligula”, until she meets her cousin Wilhelm (played by Jane’s brother, Peter Fonda). Making siblings playing cousins in love tells us something (or maybe a lot) about Vadim and his mysterious Slavic soul and reminds about Poe’s own dramatic love for his first cousin, Virginia Eliza Clemm, whom he married when she was only 13 and whose death at the age of 25 from tuberculosis could have let to decline of his own mental state and his untimely death less than three years after her.
Poe explores in “William Wilson” very popular in the Art and literature subject of a man and his double that represents his conscience, his dark and hidden side. The short story brings to mind such famous works of literature as Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Shadow”, Adelbert Von Chamisso’s “Peter Schlemiel: The Man Who Sold His Shadow”, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
In Louis Malle’s short film, Wilson (Alain Delon) confesses his sinful and dreadful life to the priest recalling the outrageous and vicious deeds that have been prevented or disclosed by his exact double whose name is also William Wilson. Two scenes of the short film stand out. The first is a simply chilling Wilson’s attempt to perform an autopsy on a living woman and the second – Wilson plays cards, cheating shamelessly, with rich and arrogant Giuseppina (Brigitte Bardot almost unrecognizable in a black wig that does almost impossible – makes her look ugly). While it may be not the best Poe’s adaptation and perhaps the weakest of three films in the anthology, two Delons for the price of one is reason enough to see it. I am glad that I finally saw the film that has achieved a cult status with years but is not easily available (I had to wait for several weeks for it from Netflix even after I had bumped it to the top). What started with my interest in the musical score by Rota, ended as a memorable watching experience.
Directors: Federico Fellini, Louis Malle
Writers: Edgar Allan Poe (story “Metzengerstein”) (as Edgar Allan Poë), Roger Vadim (adaptation)
Stars: Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon
Country: France | Italy
Language: French | Italian | English
Release Date: 12 September 1968 (Italy)
Also Known As: Spirits of the Dead
Filming Locations: Bergamo, Lombardia, Italy