The Avenging Conscience: or “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a 1914 U.S. horror film directed by D. W. Griffith. The film is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the poem “Annabel Lee“.
A young man (Henry B. Walthall) falls in love with a beautiful woman (Blanche Sweet), but is prevented by his uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken) from pursuing her. Tormented by visions of death and suffering and deciding that murder is the way of things, the young man kills his uncle and builds a wall to hide the body.
The young man’s torment continues, this time caused by guilt over murdering his uncle, and he becomes sensitive to slight noises, like the tapping of a shoe or the crying of a bird. The ghost of his uncle begins appearing to him and, as he gradually loses his grip on reality, the police figure out what he has done and chase him down. In the ending sequence, we learn that the experience was all a dream and that his uncle is really alive.
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“The psychological aspects of Poe’s morbid tales proved an ideal vehicle for Griffith’s ideas. In one particularly effective sequence taken directly from The Tell-Tale Heart, the murderous Nephew (Henry B. Walthall) is being interrogated by the detective. Losing his nerve, he becomes increasingly agitated by the detective tapping his pen on the table, imagining he can hear his dead Uncle’s heartbeat. Griffith uses his trademark cross-cutting – to the pen, a tapping foot, a ticking clock – to both illustrate the sound in purely visual terms, and to emphasise the Nephew’s mounting anxiety.” The Devil’s Manor
“The Avenging Conscience was pretty innovative in a few ways. What stood out to me most was the pacing. After watching several silent movies where everything felt either insanely rushed or incredibly drawn out it was so nice to watch a film that had scenes that played together very well; although the ending does get a bit weird and feels slightly rushed. It kind of felt like stuff was just thrown in to lengthen the running time.” I’m Watching Movies
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