You will find most reviews of this short(67 min.), old('42), B&W biop scathingly negative. If you want a classy biop, rewatch "Lust for Life" or "Wyatt Earp", for example. Think of this as a soap opera sited in early 19th century America. Poe was no military hero nor charismatic political leader, no inventor of wondrous technologies, music nor frescos. His historical interest stems from his poems and often pioneering forms of prose, most of which have limited appeal to today's audiences. These writings were perhaps his greatest love, thus are legitimately included, although in quite a cursory manner. On the positive, the screen play sticks to facts more so than most of the factually very flimsy, sugar-coated biops of that era. It provides an abbreviated snapshot of the often early death-shortened personal relationships of the times. On the other hand, it could have done a much more thorough job of chronicling Poe's significant relationships with women. Also, it would have been revealing to mention that both his father and brother died quite young, apparently mostly from alcoholism, which also plagued Poe, and is suspected of being the main cause of his death.
While the very gradual debilitating terminal illness of Poe's young wife Virginia( the ravishing Linda Darnell) is the focus of periodic episodes in the latter portion of the film, it's not made clear that this was due to TB: a very common affliction of the times. It could have been brought out that his birth mother also succumbed to this disease only a few years after he was born, and that she died at the same age(24) at which his wife succumbed. In fact, the film totally ignores his first intense relationship with a woman: his birth mother, and the apparent traumatic effect of her loss on his subsequent psyche. Fortunately, as the film emphasizes, he had a good relationship with his foster mother, who countered the often stern and critical attitude of his foster father. However, as dramatized, she died when he was 20, still trying to sort out how he was going to make a living with a literary career. Thus, the recurring theme of many of Poe's poems of a beautiful young woman struck down in her prime is understandable, with the recurring death or departure of the woman closest to him. As dramatized, his widowed birth aunt(played by Jane Darwell) became his new surrogate mother. He came to cherish her growing daughter, Virginia, who had the qualities of beauty and a sparkling personality, that were admired in his popular actress birth mother. The film fails to mention that they were married when she was only 13 and he 27. However, it emphasizes that she remained devoted to him, despite his unstable and meager earnings, where another woman probably would have left.
Much of the first half of the film includes the ambivalent relationship with Poe's foster father: John Allan. Mr. Allan was a wealthy man and provided Poe with a good childhood education, partially in the UK. But, he declined to provide him with sufficient funds to continue at the new University of Virginia, nor as a cadet at West Point, being disappointed in his avowed choice of a career as a writer, editor, literary critic and lecturer, and chagrined at his gambling debts. Also, we get the accurate picture that his relationships with men in his very marginally livable profession were most often adversarial, leading to his frequent firing and unfulfilled ambition of editing his own periodical. Stemming from his status as a foster child, derived from low status actors, Poe had a lifelong need to prove that he was better than anyone else in what he did, and didn't hesitate to rake many of his literary contemporaries over the coals in print.
The film should have dramatized Poe's attempt at rekindling his teenage love affair with Elmira Royster(Virginia Gilmore) in the last months of his life. Instead, she is portrayed as 'the other woman' threat to a sick Virginia. As dramatized, their teen relationship gradually dissipated after he left for college, and Elmira's father destroyed their letter communications(as Elmira discloses later in the film). She had married, with children, but was a well-off widow when Poe was keen to reestablish a romantic relationship. She was initially hesitant, but finally gave in shortly before he died in Baltimore, in transit to his home in NYC: perhaps the victim of political gang mistreatment. This episode is merely alluded to when Elmira comes to visit the dying Virginia, who expresses her fear that Elmira has always been Poe's first love. Actually, Elmira is a stand in for another woman: poet Francis Osgood, who did establish a brief relationship with Poe during Virginia's dying months. She did often visit Virginia, who actually encouraged this relationship as being good for Poe's sanity and future. The film also ignores 2 other women : Sarah Whitman and Nancy Richmond, with whom Poe formed short-term intense relationships during his rather brief post-Virginia period.
Poe's dramatized meeting with aged Univ. of Va. founder and president Tom Jefferson over his gambling and drinking alludes to Jefferson's revolutionary vision of an ideal university experience and a very open relationship of the president to individual students. Thus, official prohibitions against various naughty behaviors were seldom enforced, as in Poe's case.
Presently, available on DVD, as well as on You Tube, in 6 segments.
For a good documentary treatment of the loves of Poe, I recommend a combination of "Edgar Allan Poe: Love, Death, and Women" and "The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe", both presently on You Tube.
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