Twice-Told Tales takes its title from Hawthornes 1837 short story collection of the same name. The film clearly came about as a result of the success that Roger Corman had with his series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, beginning with The House of Usher (1960). The filmmakers turn to another writer of American Gothic and set the film in the same type of florid period surroundings that Corman did. More to the point, the filmmakers employ Vincent Price, the mainstay from Cormans Poe films, as the single connecting feature in all three stories. Even more so, the filmmakers have taken a clear leaf from what Corman did with the Poe portmanteau Tales of Terror (1962) a year earlier in telling three horror stories from the same author in one film indeed, in both Twice-Told Tales and Tales of Terror, Vincent Price is the single connecting actor in all three of the stories that either film tells.
Alas, Twice-Told Tales is a ponderous bore. The stories are adapted in literalistic ways. Most notably, Dr Heideggers Experiment (1837) is bent entirely out of shape. In the original story, the titular medic offers an elixir to three aging men and one woman who have all led selfish lives they regain their youth but end up squabbling over the woman, before finding the effects of the elixir are only akin to a glass of wine. There is mention of the doctors late wife who drank poison but she is not resurrected from the dead, nor do we visit her tomb. The elixir in the story is not derived from water that mysteriously drips down onto a coffin but has been sent to the doctor by someone who found Ponce de Leons Fountain of Youth. Nathaniel Hawthornes story is a morality tale about greed and selfishness but in the film it has been turned into a Poe-esque tale about a wife revived from the dead. The twist in the original tale is present here but is overshadowed by another modestly effective twist that reveals Vincent Prices companion was the wifes secret lover and that it was he that poisoned her.
The second episode, the adaptation of Rappaccinis Daughter (1844), is the best of the segments and not too surprisingly is also the most faithful to the original story. Little of the essence and thrust of the story is changed and the episode holds one to it, despite the ponderousness of Sidney Salkows direction, due to the intriguing mystery built up around the girl in the courtyard and the twists that Hawthorne puts on the story, which are all preserved intact.
That, alas, leaves the third and final segment, which makes a vain attempt to reduce Nathaniel Hawthornes The House of Seven Gables, a novel of 21 chapters, to a segment of around 40 minutes. In fact, the film fairly much abandons all of Hawthornes novel and constructs a new story (a standard haunted house story) out of a handful of elements from the book the wrongly condemned ancestor, the quest for a map, the seemingly cursed deaths of the Pyncheons. Most of the characters present in this episode have no equivalent in the book, for instance. Moreover, while Hawthorne is ambiguous about the supernatural in the book the book has been aptly called a ghost story without any ghosts the film has no qualms about such and ends with the schlocky image of Vincent Price being killed as a ghostly skeletal hand reaches out from a wall safe and closes around his throat.
Twice-Told Tales is dull and ponderous. The stories in themselves, even the mangled adaptation that they are, could have worked well with a different director. Alas, the film is hamstrung with the dreadfully pedestrian Sidney Salkow who also directed Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964), another thoroughly dull adaptation of a fine horror story. Salkows sedentary direction and Technicolor colour wrings all the atmosphere out of the stories. What the film needed was the vigour and brio that Corman brought to his various Poe films, or even the flair of someone like Terence Fisher who was having similar success across the channel at Hammer Films.