TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION
SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
The first segment of the film, Roger Vadims Metzengerstein, is unfortunately the worst. Vadim offers up a promisingly decadent opening with his then wife Jane Fonda lording over various cruelties and pleasures. However, after the point that the horse enters the show, the episode slows right down and drags out tediously. The plot is conveyed almost entirely by dull, often pretentious, voice-over narration and the piece seems twice as long as its half-hour running time. Even the usually worthwhile Jane Fonda parades around like a whim-obsessed romantic. Fonda at least goes through some fabulous costume changes (something that Roger Vadim was to put her through to even more extravagant effect in the same years Barbarella). To its credit, Metzengerstein is the only episode of the three that comes anywhere near sustaining a Poe-esque mood. Metzengerstein was a flop with which to open the film. The management of the revival house where I saw Tales of Mystery and Imagination said that a substantial part of their audiences walked out during this segment. Happily to report, the film picks up considerably after that.
Louis Malles segment William Wilson is the finest of the three episodes. The segment is a lushly photographed and grippingly suspenseful. Malle turns Edgar Allan Poes 1839 story about doppelgangers into a fascinating study in cruelty and sadism. Malle lingers on the cruelty to a perverse degree, which makes the segment all the more fascinating. There is the sheer nastiness of scenes with a boy tied up and being covered in rats; or of Alain Deloin with a prostitute tied up in a lecture theatre and preparing to dissect her. In fact, Louis Malle seems more interested in portraying the characters cruelty than he does in the story of a sinister double. There is considerable psychological tension to the cardgame between Alain Deloin and Brigitte Bardot, climaxing in the extraordinarily Sadean scene where he strips and whips her.
Whereas Roger Vadim adapted Edgar Allan Poe as a mediaeval romantic ghost story and Louis Malle adapted Poe via De Sade, Federico Fellini abandons any resemblance at all if anything, his segment, Toby Damnit, is Poe fed through The New Wave. In fact, Toby Damnit is all Fellini and no Poe. As such, it is another of Fellinis vibrant, hyper-real depictions of Rome as super-city that he returns to over and over again as in La Dolce Vita, 8½ and Fellinis Roma (1972). Fellini and his cinematographer go wild, shooting the most brilliant vermilions, mauves, and blues conceivable. The background is filled with the usual Fellini-esque costume extravaganza and caravan of freaks, dissolute clerics and eccentrics. Aside from that, there is not much to the segment and it eventually drags. The story takes a backseat to the garish visuals but Fellini and Terence Stamp do at least succeed in lacing it with a sardonic sense of the absurd.
Metzengerstein available in full here:-
William Wilson available in full here:-
Toby Damnit available here (follow for successive parts):-