Animation Artifacts &UPA 28 Dec 2007 09:04 am

The Tell Tale Heart – part 1

- Recently, there have been a number of attacks on the classic
UPA film, The Tell Tale Heart.
A number of voices – all on blogs
and internet chatter – have called the animation for this film poor. Even recently, in a letter to Michael Barrier, Tee Bosustow writes “about the bad animation in Tell Tale Heart.”

Pat Matthews was the film’s sole credited animator, and he was good, having worked at Fleischer’s and Lantz’ studios before arriving at UPA. His work in this film is exactly what was required of him. Rather, The Tell Tale Heart is a tour de force of production design. It is probably one of the first non-war/propaganda animated films, since Baby Weems, to so feature this element of production over everything else – except story. Paul Julian‘s brilliant artwork oozes from the pores of every frame of this film. Together with James Mason‘s narration and Boris Kremenliev‘s strong musical score, the film evocatively tells the strong Edgar Allan Poe story. This tale has not been told on film any better since it was made in 1953. Ted Parmalee directed the film with authority.

It’s odd how I feel as though I have to defend this movie. I think it a brilliant film and have to remind myself that I’m not alone in believing this. It was nominated for the Oscar and for good reason (it lost to Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom. Ah, the irony!)

Here’s the first of two posts, using frame grabs to feature all of the scenes of the film.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

True I’m nervous. Very very dreadfully nervous.

But why will you say that I am mad? See how calmly I tell this story to you. Listen.

It starts with the old man. An old man in an old house. A good man I suppose. He had
never harmed me. I didn’t want his gold. . . if gold there was. Then what was it? I think . . .

I think it was . . . his eye. Yes, that eye . . . the eye.

That. His eye staring. Milky white film. The eye.

Everywhere. Everywhere in everything.

Of course, I had to get rid of the eye.
So I waited. Watched. Waited. I was never so kind to the old man.

I looked after him. Each minute. Each second. And I waited.

But night after night. In the hour of the slowest clock . . . I opened the old man’s door.

The eye was always closed. For seven days, I waited. You think me mad? What mad man would wait . . . could wait so patiently?

So long? In the old house . . . with the old man . . . and the eye.

Then on the eighth night I knew . . . tonight. Still, I waited . . .
. . . while time slowed. Stopped. Ebbed out.

A watch’s hand moved more quickly than mine. Then, what? Yelps.
For an hour, I did not move a muscle. I could feel the earth turn. The eye.
Hear the spider spinning. the grinding crumble of decay.
Then . . . dull and muffled, yet . . . Of course, it was the beating of the old man’s heart.

He knew. So strong for such an old man.
Louder then. And still louder. For all the world to hear. I know.
I had to stop it . . . . . AHHHHHH !

Then it was over.

______________________________________________ To be concluded tomorrow.

19 Responses to “The Tell Tale Heart – part 1”

  1. on 28 Dec 2007 at 9:27 am 1.Tim Rauch said …

    Anyone who wants to check it out can go to

    Definitely a good film, in my opinion! The composition and narration pack an amazing punch.

  2. on 28 Dec 2007 at 11:25 am 2.David said …

    What’s not to like ?

    I think it’s a fine example of strong graphic imagery and restrained movement (not “limited animation”) to achieve a foreboding, paranoid mood.

  3. on 28 Dec 2007 at 12:56 pm 3.Emmett Goodman said …

    I haven’t heard anything about this film being put down. I think its a great film, and definitally stands on its own compared to other UPA shorts. It’s got amazing atmosphere and mood.

  4. on 28 Dec 2007 at 1:07 pm 4.Jerry Beck said …

    UPA’s TELL TALE HEART is brilliant.
    Most of the negative internet chatter is among younger cartoon fans who are reviewing UPA cartoons without understanding the historic chronologic context in which these innovative films first appeared. I agree with some who say that the bulk of UPA’s film were rather dull in retrospect. But a celebrated few (mostly the Oscar nominees/winners like Rooty Toot Toot, Unicorn In The Garden, Tell Tale Heart, Gerald McBoing Boing, and several others) really stand up as classics.

    It’s hard for some who were born after the UPA design revolution to understand what a shake up to the status quo it was. These latter day critics can’t see the difference between a Christopher Crumpet and a Fractured Fairy Tale or an early Yogi Bear cartoon – except that Christopher Crumpet isn’t as funny as the Jay Ward and HB cartoons that followed.

    I wish the Gene Deitch Terrytoons were more widely available. They have their problems too, but several (FLEBUS, JUGGLER OF OUR LADY, SICK SICK SIDNEY, et al.) are more “UPA” than UPA ever was, and funny too.

  5. on 28 Dec 2007 at 1:16 pm 5.Michael said …

    That’s an excellent comment, Jerry.
    It seems to me that John K. was the one who first kicked up the dirt over this film when he initially trashed it on his blog.
    I’d love to see some of those Deitch Terrytoons, as well. I’ve seen Juggler For Our Lady about a half dozen time, always in bad print and pan-and-scan rather than cinemascope. Even Bob Blechman doesn’t have a good copy. I’ve yet to see Flebus.

  6. on 28 Dec 2007 at 1:26 pm 6.Amid said …

    Calling Tell-Tale Heart poorly animated is like calling Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon anatomically incorrect. Talk about missing the entire point of what you’re looking at.

  7. on 28 Dec 2007 at 2:59 pm 7.Tom Minton said …

    Tee Bosustow showed several classic UPA shorts last month at Pixar but had to apologize for the dim, practically monochromatic nature of the video transfers he was projecting to an audience of mostly young artists who likely had never seen the UPA material in the manner it was produced. Three decades ago it was easy to catch 35mm, Tech archival prints of UPA cartoons at revival theatres, but no more. UPA’s output put such emphasis on color that many of their theatricals carried a ‘Color’ credit to identify the designer responsible. Who owns the UPA negatives? Proper restoration is in order.

  8. on 28 Dec 2007 at 4:46 pm 8.benny z said …

    I saw that comment in bosustow’s letter and was taken aback. Animation has always been to me about control of movement, caricatured yes, but also stylized and interpreted for reasons other than the illusion of life or acting. The constraints within the character animation contrast so strikingly with the moment of the murder, when the screen is consumed by movement. The way the animation draws the eye across the frame fascinates me as a way of luring the audience into an interior mindspace. People who call this bad animation are defining good animation narrowly. I fully agree with amid’s comment above.
    people probably complain about story problems in begone dull care, too.

  9. on 28 Dec 2007 at 11:44 pm 9.Thad Komorowski said …

    I like “The Tell-Tale Heart”. But I’ve never really considered it ‘animated’. It’s mostly long pans of BGs (which are beautiful), and it does its job of being ‘eerie’.

    “Rooty Toot Toot” is probably their best cartoon and is a masterpiece. “Gerald McBoing Boing” is just average for me. I saw “Georgie and the Dragon” for the first time recently, and that was a really charming one.

    Cartoons like “Unicorn in the Garden” and “Madeline” are just direct, bland tellings of the story, and any redeeming quality in them comes from the original source and not the artists who made the films. There are other cartoons like “Christopher Crumpet” and “Rise of Dutton Lang” which are just ugly and horrible.

    The problem I have is that the whole studio is getting lauded and defended, when really John Hubley was the only one there who knew what he was doing. His name is certainly on just about any cartoon from UPA I think is good.

    Maybe if it was Hubley (and other individual artists) who was being defended rather than the studio that threw him out on his ass I’d be more sympathetic.

  10. on 29 Dec 2007 at 3:41 am 10.Thad Komorowski said …

    I don’t know if Jerry’s comment was directed at me, but I’ve seen all of the UPA cartoons, and I think the cartoons labeled as classics really are classics. (Like I said, I hate “Unicorn in the Garden” though.) Is there really much of a difference between a Christopher Crumpet and those TV cartoons? Sure, we’re going to argue that Crumpet was made ‘artfully’ and the others commercially (which is true), but ugly art is still ugly art.

    The worst UPA cartoons weren’t even made at UPA though… They were made by Friz Freleng! He tried to do the UPA thing with a few horrible cartoons like Pizzicato Pussycat, Yankee Doodle Bugs, Goo Goo Goliath, etc., and thankfully abandoned that line of thinking.

  11. on 29 Dec 2007 at 1:52 pm 11.Michael said …

    Thad, I’m sure Jerry did not have you in mind when he wrote his piece. You’ve at least seen the films, and can make a comment based on knowledge. Others have hardened opinions without having seen the films in decent prints, armed only with John K’s thoughts and biases.

  12. on 30 Dec 2007 at 8:18 pm 12.Scott Harpel said …

    The negatives are owned by Sony are they not? Which basically means we are screwed unless someone at say Criterion offers a chunk of change to do the work. Sigh, if only the Brothers Warner had the Library.

  13. on 08 Jan 2008 at 5:29 pm 13.robcat2075 said …

    Michael Barrier says this was originally made for 3D? Was it shot in 3D or just designed for 3D and then shot in 2D?

    Was it like the Fleischer process where the constructed a 3D set and painted it to look “toony”?

    Do any 3D elements still exist?

  14. on 08 Jan 2008 at 5:41 pm 14.Michael said …

    It supposedly was in 3D – meaning red and blue glasses. It doesn’t relate to what Fleischer did at all. More like planes moving in space.

    However, there is no real verification that it was ever done in 3D. No prints exist, no records exist for that version. I’ve heard about this for years, and suspect that they planned to do it in 3D, but never went forward with it.

  15. on 17 Jan 2008 at 7:57 am 15.j p sutcliffe said …

    tell tale heart – animated version – an excellent rendition… time and effort put into the making of this film… beats the pixalated shite we see now, the disney factory production line fodder we’re forced to view/consume.

  16. on 09 Mar 2008 at 10:39 am 16.dave said …

    There is an animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart at:

  17. on 29 May 2008 at 3:53 pm 17.Modzilla said …

    This, and a couple of the McBoing Boing cartoons
    are included as extras on disc one of the initial 2-disc Hellboy set under the title “From the Den”.

  18. on 30 Mar 2010 at 5:36 pm 18.Sasha said …

    that second to last frame is total francis bacon.
    this movie is incredible, thanks.

  19. on 30 Mar 2010 at 5:41 pm 19.Sasha said …

    francis bacon. antonin artaud. alfred hitchcock. fritz lang. bela legosi. willy wonka. edward gorey. tim burton. scooby doo. dali.

Trackback This Post | Subscribe to the comments through RSS Feed

Leave a Reply

eXTReMe Tracker
click for free hit counter

hit counter