Watch a Surreal 1953 Animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” Voted the 24th Best Cartoon of All Time

Ani­ma­tion stu­dio UPA—United Pro­duc­tions of America—is best known these days as the stu­dio that gave us Mr. Magoo and Ger­ald McBo­ing Boing (which inspired a cer­tain web­site). But the stu­dio, orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed by three for­mer Dis­ney employ­ees, want­ed to broad­en hori­zons back in the 1950s, and cre­at­ed this quite dis­turb­ing adap­ta­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart,” nar­rat­ed by the ven­er­a­ble James Mason.

Due to its adult sub­ject mat­ter, it was the first ani­mat­ed film to receive an “X” rat­ing
(or “suit­able for those aged 16 and over”) in the UK. Though not intend­ed for chil­dren, many undoubt­ed­ly saw the film as kids and were pro­found­ly affect­ed by it. The film, designed by Paul Julian, bor­rows both from Dali-esque sur­re­al­ism and Ger­man expres­sion­ism.

And while it does fea­ture some tra­di­tion­al cell ani­ma­tion, there’s a mix of tech­niques that keep the film in the realm of the dream­like and avant-garde: sud­den zooms, shad­ows that fade in and out, flat­tened per­spec­tives, inven­tive use of chiaroscuro. In this film one can see both the future careers of Roger Cor­man and Dario Argen­to, both grab­bing influ­ences left and right.

In fact, though design­er Paul Julian is best known for his back­ground work at Warn­er Bros. ani­ma­tion stu­dios (he also is known as the cre­ator of the Road Runner’s beep-beep sound), he wound up pro­vid­ing direc­tor Roger Cor­man with art­work for movies like Demen­tia 13 and The Ter­ror.

UPA con­tin­ued to pro­duce films with its mod­ern and flat space-age aes­thet­ic dur­ing the ‘50s, but it nev­er real­ly hit these adult heights again. The ‘60s how­ev­er, would pick up from where UPA left off.

Julian’s “The Tell Tale Heart” was vot­ed the 24th great­est car­toon of all time, in a 1994 sur­vey of 1,ooo ani­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als. It was also nom­i­nat­ed for the Acad­e­my Award for Best Ani­mat­ed Short Film. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into dis­tur­bia. It will be added to our list of Free Ani­ma­tions, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven: Watch an Award-Win­ning Short Film That Mod­ern­izes Poe’s Clas­sic Tale

Hear Orson Welles Read Edgar Allan Poe on a Cult Clas­sic Album by The Alan Par­sons Project

The Simp­sons Present Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and Teach­ers Now Use It to Teach Kids the Joys of Lit­er­a­ture

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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