Combustible Celluloid
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With: Henry B. Walthall, Spottiswoode Aitken, Blanche Sweet, George Siegmann, Ralph Lewis, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, George Beranger
Written by: D.W. Griffith, based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 78
Date: 08/02/1914

The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (1914)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ebb and Poe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

D.W. Griffith's The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (1914) is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Tell Tale Heart" and poem "Annabelle Lee" (with bits of "The Cask of Amontillado" and other things thrown in). It takes a while to get started, it's not exactly frightening, and it's more than a little loopy in the plot department, but it contains some truly memorable, hallucinatory images. The young hero (Henry B. Walthall) decides to kill his miserly uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken) so that he can be with his sweetheart (Blanche Sweet), but images of the dead man and other creepy ideas keep tormenting him. Griffith throws in a few bizarre, pet messages, such as pictures of Moses holding the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" tablet. It's shot on just a few, basic sets, it has degrading images of Italian-Americans, and it's a great deal less impressive than the following year's The Birth of a Nation. But it's fascinating nonetheless. The disc includes the one-reeler Edgar Allen Poe (accidentally, but now permanently misspelled), from 1909. Herbert Yost plays the great writer, who comes up with the inspiration for "The Raven" as his wife Virginia (Linda Arvidson) lies on her sickbed. Can he sell the story in time to save her life?

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