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In 1942, Twentieth Century Fox Released The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, a movie with the most inappropriate tagline ever:  in_loves_of_edgar_allan_poe_jm01747_l

Men scoffed at his greatness… Women knew it with his first kiss!

Zowie!

Oh dear, I can already tell verisimilitude is out the window, it is not a tagline for any Poe screenplay I would want.

Lord Byron, okay, I see women recognizing greatness in a kiss, but Edgar Allan Poe…

Well, it’s not an obvious description. I have a sinking feeling the studio will take artistic license!

However, Poe may be a legendary kisser, and you know I have to find out!

Synopsis: The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe follows Poe’s (John Sheppard) short and tragic life. Unfolding through the women playing significant roles in his life, the film covers his mother’s the tragic death, his kind foster mother Frances Allan (Mary Howard), his childhood sweetheart Elmira Royster (Virginia Gilmore), his aunt Mariah Clemm (Jane Darwell) and his wife Virginia Clemm (Linda Darnell).

It also touches on the men who were also influential, though often negatively so, like his foster father John Allan (Frank Conroy) whose resentment of Poe is quite sadistic.

Poe Jeff

Poe & Thomas Jefferson

The film’s positive influences include former President Thomas Jefferson (Gilbert Emery) and founder of The University of Virginia, where Poe attended school in 1826. A moment fabricated for the film, Jefferson pulls a young Poe aside to advise that John Allan has demanded Poe leave the University. Jefferson however, insists that Poe confront Allan and continue his courses in writing, as Poe’s story The Gold-Bug is a thrilling piece of literature.

While an encounter between the two is probable, there is no evidence of Jefferson influencing Poe’s life. The Gold-Bug‘s first known manuscript is dated 1842 and published in 1843.

Poe Chuck

Poe & Charles Dickens

The film features an encounter between Poe and Charles Dickens. In reality, Charles Dickens has a small but significant role in Poe’s life. The two authors were friends and exchanged correspondence, mutually admiring one another’s works. In the film, Dickens supports Poe in his fight for copyright protection. During the 19th century, very few copyright laws existed, thereby allowing American Literary Journals to poach great works from European authors without paying royalties, and making publication difficult for American authors.

Grip

Quoth Grip, Nevermore!

The film briefly mentions Dickens’ story Barnaby Rudge, in case you have not read this story, it features a talking raven!

And Dickens had a pet Raven named “Grip”! We don’t get to see this raven in the movie, but it is a nice little Poe-Dickensian factoid, knowing Poe wrote The Raven. Grip is taxidermied and on display in the rare book section of the Free Library of Philadelphia!

The film keeps close to the facts (as much as a 1940s biography can) while occasionally rearranging the event chain for a dramatic impact. For example, in real life Virginia Clem died two years after Poe sold The Raven, not the moment he returned from the publishers with a handout gathered from the printers.

The film glosses over the negative details, in real life Virginia married Poe at 12 years old. Linda Darnell, the actress that plays Virginia is probably pushing 30. But the costumer puts her in a pinafore and the script describes her as child-like. It does make a meal out of the fact that she was his first cousin!

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I wish I had that outfit for gardening!

I do not know how Twentieth Century Fox filmmakers define abject poverty, but Virginia is quite a fashion plate!

However, I liked this movie, despite Linda Darnell’s costumes.

This movie does not portray Poe as morose. He is lively and charming, as the real Poe was. But, it revises the details to a sugar-coated confection of 1940s cinema, and its attempts to color Poe’s character with a touch of the macabre feel added on and border on silly:

POE. Richmond is the capital of my heart, I am drawn to it, just as a murderer is drawn to the scene of his crimes!
MARIAH. Oh Eddie, can’t you ever forget those ghosts and murders?

Despite this, the film is enjoyable, easily suitable for all ages, and Poe reinvented as a romantic hero makes for a charming story.

T.S. of The New York Times writes, “a portrait of Poe that belongs in the mainstream of the Little Theatre tradition, and his lovelorn ladies, Linda Darnell and Virginia Gilmore are hardly carried beyond ankle-high emotions by the requirements of the script. The remaining portraits are for the most part tintypes of the period. Meanwhile, a perceptive drama of an unhappy and greatly gifted man remains to be done.”

The review is correct, the film does not delve into Poe or his creative process, and that would make a more interesting film. Neither the title nor the tagline suggests the film showing anything beyond Poe’s kissing ability. I did not expect more than romance.

But, here’s the important question: is his kiss spectacular? Well, you never can tell, kissing is one of those things you have to experience firsthand to know.

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If you want to know, if he’s Edgar Poe, It’s in his kiss, That’s where it is!

Okay, I totally paraphrased the Shoop-Shoop Song, which is probably the last thing I ever thought would occur in a Poe Post.

poeOn a more serious note, October 7th marks the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe (in 1849), and possibly the most mysterious element of Poe’s life.

What follows is a brief synopsis of facts from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

  • After mourning the loss of his wife Virginia Clemm, Poe’s life spiraled out of control, his days spent simultaneously courting multiple women interspersed with bouts of illness and drinking.
  • Circumstances leading to and the cause of his death are vague and mysterious. Prior to his death, he suffered from bouts of paranoia fearing assassination. Upon visiting his doctor he accidentally exchanged canes with his doctor, his doctor’s cane contained a concealed sword.
  • In September 1849, Poe vanished.
  • October 3, 1849, Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore delirious wearing clothing that were clearly not his own, yet he still had the concealed sword. He was taken to a hospital in a semi-conscious state, at the hospital, Poe suffered from fits and repeated the name “Reynolds” (no one knows who this is).
  • While The Baltimore Clipper attributes his death to “brain congestion,” speculation ranges from alcohol poisoning, brain lesions, diabetes, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and rabies.
  • As in The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, other scholars suggest Poe was a “cooping” victim. Men were abducted, plied with drugged alcohol and taken to various electoral locations as a repeat voter.

What is known is so strange; one cannot help but feel that his life imitated his art. A fascinating mystery and one worthy of cinematic exploration. Though significantly more dramatic, the 2012 film The Raven, suggests a more sinister cause.

We will never know what transpired when Poe vanished, but I think the mystery adds to the mystique and fitting for the man who invented the detective fiction genre (The Murders in the Rue Morgue).

Ciao for now my dearies!

-Summer

Resources

Watch The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poehttp://eapoe.org/geninfo/poedeath.htm. Web.

T.S., “The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) THE SCREEN; ‘The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe,’ With John Shepperd, Linda Darnell and Virginia Gilmore, Opens at the Little Carnegie.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 21 Sept. 1942. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.

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