Hear Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” Read by the Great Bela Lugosi (1946)

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.

Hap­py Hal­loween!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Film Extra­or­di­nary Tales Ani­mates Edgar Poe Sto­ries, with Nar­ra­tions by Guiller­mo Del Toro, Christo­pher Lee & More

Iggy Pop Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ry, “The Tell-Tale Heart”

5 Hours of Edgar Allan Poe Sto­ries Read by Vin­cent Price & Basil Rath­bone

Bela Lugosi Dis­cuss­es His Drug Habit as He Leaves the Hos­pi­tal in 1955

Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Out­er Space: “The Worst Movie Ever Made,” “The Ulti­mate Cult Flick,” or Both?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.