I have to admit that the 1942 film, The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, turned out to be far different from what I was expecting.
Just based on the title, I was expecting it would be a highly fictionalized, borderline silly film about Edgar Allan Poe defeating his romantic rivals and winning the hand of the woman he loved while still finding time to write The Raven. I figured that there would be at least a few gentlemanly fisticuffs, with Poe portrayed as a combination of Rhett Butler and Cary Grant. Looking at the title, it was easy for me to imagine the film closing with Poe kissing his future wife and then looking straight at the camera. “Quoth the Raven!” he would say and wink while romantic music swelled in the background…
But no. The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe is actually a very conventional biopic. With a running time of only 67 minutes, the movie often feels rather rushed but it still manages to include most of the better known details of Edgar Allan Poe’s short but eventful life. (An ever-present narrator is always ready to fill us in on every thing that happens off-screen.) The film doesn’t spend much time on what initially inspired Poe’s macabre imagination. There’s a scene of Poe, as a child, standing on a desolate hill and looking at a raven perched in a dead tree. With the exception of an extended section that deals with Annabel Lee, that’s about as deep as the movie is willing to get as far as Poe’s art is concerned.
When Poe grows up, he’s played by actor Sheppard Strudwick, who has a good mustache but never exactly comes across as being the type of tortured genius who would eventually end up both revolutionizing literature and drinking himself to death. The majority of the film deals with Poe’s advocacy for copyright reform, which is an important issue but not exactly the most cinematic of concerns. Poe survives college. Poe tries to sell The Raven for $25. Eventually, Poe marries Virginia Clemm (Linda Darnell) and her subsequent sickness and death leads to not only Poe’s greatest work but also his own tragic end.
Along the way, Poe meets both Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dickens. Jefferson shows up long enough to tell a young Poe that he’s a good writer and that he needs to stop gambling. Dickens meets Poe and encourages him to continue to advocate for better copyright laws.
It is known that Poe and Dickens actually did meet but did Poe also meet Thomas Jefferson? Legend says that he did but no one knows for sure. Here’s what we do know:
Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826. The University’s founder, former President Thomas Jefferson, was still alive in 1826 and would often invite promising students to Monticello. Whether Jefferson was still doing that when Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia is questionable. Jefferson died five months after Poe started his studies.
As for Dickens, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe admired each other’s writing and they met in Philadelphia during Dickens’s 1842 tour of North America. No record has been kept of what they discussed, though some think that Dickens told Poe about his pet raven and perhaps inspired Poe’s best-remembered poem. In the movie, they discuss copyright laws, which is nowhere near as much fun.
(When it comes to Poe’s meetings with both Jefferson and Dickens, it is perhaps best to remember the lesson of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and print the legend.)
The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe is a very short film and an obviously low-budget one as well. When the presence of that somewhat pedantic narrator, The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe feels more like an educational special than a real movie. It’s an okay introduction to Poe’s life but, ultimately, the best way to get to know Edgar Allan Poe is to sit down and start reading.