SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (aka: Histoires Extraordinaires) (aka: Tre Passi Nel Delirio)

(directors: Federico Fellini (segment “Toby Dammit”), Louis Malle (segment “William Wilson”), Roger Vadim (segment “Metzengerstein”); screenwriters: Roger Vadim, Pascal Cousin (both adaptation and segment “Metzengerstein”), Louis Malle, Clement Biddle Wood (both adaptation and segment “William Wilson”), Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi (both adaptation and segment “Toby Dammit”): Daniel Boulanger (dialogue segment “William Wilson” and “Metzengerstein”); Edgar Allan Poe (stories and segments “Metzengerstein,””William Wilson,” as Edgar A. Poe “Ne pariez jamais votre tête avec le Diable”/”Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” segment “Toby Dammit”); cinematographers: Tonino Delli Colli (segment “William Wilson”), Claude Renoir (segment “Metzengerstein”), Giuseppe Rotunno (segment “Toby Dammit”); editors: Franco Arcalli (segment “William Wilson”), Suzanne Baron (segment “William Wilson”), Ruggiero Mastroianni (segment “Toby Dammit”), Helene Plemiannikov (segment “Metzengerstein”); music: Diego Masson (segment “William Wilson”), Jean Prodromides (segment “Metzengerstein”), Nino Rota (segment “Toby Dammit”); cast: Brigitte Bardot (Giuseppina, segment “William Wilson”), Alain Delon (William Wilson, segment “William Wilson”), Jane Fonda (Contessa Frederica, segment “Metzengerstein”), Terence Stamp (Toby Dammit, segment “Toby Dammit”), James Robertson Justice (Countess’ advisor, segment “Metzengerstein”), Salvo Randone (priest, segment “Toby Dammit”), Francoise Prevost (friend of Countess, segment “Metzengerstein”), Peter Fonda (Baron Wilhelm, segment “Metzengerstein”), Marlene Alexandre (segment “Metzengerstein”), Marie-Ange Anies (segment “Metzengerstein”); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Raymond Eger; Alberto Grimaldi (segment “Toby Dammit” uncredited); Janus; 1968-France/Italy-in French and Italian with English subtitles)

“None of the three European director’s stories catches the macabre flavor of Poe.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An uneven episodic film that bases its three stories on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. None of the three European director’s stories catches the macabre flavor of Poe, as it’s more in tune with their own excessive cinematic styles; but, at least, Fellini’s overbaked Toby Dammit, much like his latter Roma, is entertaining; Vadim’s William Wilson manages to be stylishly baroque, perverse and meaningless, as it offers the doomed romance between siblings Jane and Peter Fonda (for those who get off on incest); while Malle’s straightforward William Wilson is an unpleasant and absurd twist on the doppelgänger theme, of a man haunted by his own conscience.

The first story features Roger Vadim’s then-wife Jane Fonda in “Metzengerstein.” It’s a campy, joyless romantic medieval tale set in France (filmed in Roscoff, a small town in Brittany) about the transference of spirits. Jane, adorned in colorful and revealing period costumes, plays the dissolute orgy loving castle dwelling countess who fails to romantically corrupt her horse-loving baron cousin Peter Fonda. Angered by his aloofness, she retaliates by setting fire to his stables. He’s killed in the blaze, and Jane believes the black stallion that escaped is Peter’s reincarnation and tames the horse only to be ridden into a blaze.

In Louis Malle’s “William Wilson,” set in 19th century Bergamo in northern Italy (and shot in Italy), Alain Delon is being chased by his doppelgänger. The evil French officer seeks out a country priest to get help from being haunted since childhood by his double and confesses to killing his double; afterwards, when still not relieved of his anxiety, he kills himself. Before he puts himself out of his misery, Alain annoyingly presents us with the gruesome details of his sadistic existence starting with his ongoing troubles with his double at Eton’s boarding school. It also features Brigitte Bardot as a gambler lady of noble birth who smokes cigars and gets to be whipped by Alain while wearing a brunette wig.

The final tale, easily the best episode even though it has almost nothing to do with Poe, is Federico Fellini’s delirious “Toby Dammit.” It’s set in modern times and has a famous hipster Shakespearean Brit actor, Terence Stamp, lured by the promise of a Maserati (or a Ferrari) to Rome to star as Christ in the first Catholic-Marxist Western for an Italian TV program. At the end of the shoot the screwed-up actor is both high on drugs and drunk and is distracted by the sight of a blonde girl bouncing a ball (who turns out to be the Devil), and is beheaded by hanging wires while speeding in a stolen fancy car.

REVIEWED ON 1/6/2009 GRADE: C+     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/