A couple days ago, we featured some intriguing clips from the new animated Edgar Allan Poe film, Extraordinary Tales. Directed by animator Raul Garcia, the film draws on the voice talents of several classic horror actors and directors, including the late Christopher Lee, Roger Corman, and—in an archival reading of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart”—the legendary Bela Lugosi. You can hear his reading above, a recording that seems to date from 1946. The Hungarian actor, who struggled to find work late in his career, and wrestled with a morphine addiction, likely “recorded it for his agent,” writes Ronald L. Smith, “who would have been deputized to make copies and send them out to anyone interested in booking Bela’s solo stage act (which included an enactment of the Poe tale).”
All of the great horror stars of the early twentieth century cut their teeth on Poe, and performed his macabre stories throughout their careers. Lugosi was no exception. After his typecasting as an exotic villain in the stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the late 20s, then in Tod Browning’s famous 1931 film, Lugosi would remark, “I am definitely typed, doomed to be an exponent of evil.”
He appeared the following year as the mad scientist in Universal’s adaptation of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (watch here). Then, in 1935, Lugosi played yet another crazed doctor, who is obsessed with all things Poe, in The Raven (view here), a film that also features Universal’s other major horror star of the time, Boris Karloff. The two had teamed up the year previous in Edgar G. Ulmer’s Poe adaptation, The Black Cat, a huge hit for Universal, in which Lugosi plays yet another evil doctor.
After Lugosi’s successes with Poe-inspired films in the thirties, his career precipitously declined, and by the forties, when he made the “Tell Tale Heart” recording at the top of the post, he’d been reduced to playing parodies of his Dracula character, notably in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lugosi attempted to bank on earlier successes with Poe, or Poe-like, characters. Before Ed Wood found and resurrected him in now-classic fifties B-movies like Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and—posthumously—Plan 9 from Outer Space, Lugosi made one final appearance onscreen in a Poe adaptation. Click here and see him in an adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado,” an episode from television series Suspense. Set in Italy during World War II, this version of “Amontillado” casts Lugosi as Nazi officer “General Fortunato,” whom one fan describes as a “ruthless, amoral roué, with equally ruthless storm troopers at his beck and call.” It’s not Lugosi’s greatest performance, but it’s “Bela doing his 1949 best,” and an important entry in his catalog of Poe performances, if only because it’s the last of them.