D.W. Griffith – The Avenging Conscience: or ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (1914)


D.W. Griffith’s silent psychological drama based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” tells the story of a depressed young man who murders the cruel uncle who prevented his marriage to his beloved and the ensuing guilt that drives him into madness. Stars Henry B. Walthall, Blanche Sweet. AKA: “The Telltale Heart.” 84 min. Standard; Soundtrack: music score; bonus short “Edgar Allan Poe” (1909). Silent with music score.

A scholarly bachelor, who has raised his nephew from infancy, instills his own literary ambitions into his ward. When the young man, an Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast, wants to marry, his jealous uncle protests, implying that the young woman is of questionable virtue. Stung, and reasoning that nature is omnivorous, the nephew kills his uncle and seals the body within a fireplace. His conscience bothers him, however. Someone who witnessed the crime blackmails him, a detective hounds him, and his uncle’s ghost haunts him. In desperation, the nephew hangs himself, but is cut down by the detective before expiring. Meanwhile, his sweetheart has leaped to her death. Finally, the young man awakens to discover that he has been dreaming. He reconciles with his uncle and marries his sweetheart, after which the young couple is attended by Pan, forest animals and children.

Henry B. Walthall… The Nephew
Spottiswoode Aitken… The Uncle
Blanche Sweet … His Sweetheart
George Siegmann … The Italian
Ralph Lewis … The Detective
Mae Marsh … The Maid
Robert Harron … The Grocery Boy
George Beranger (as George A. Berranger)
Josephine Crowell… Sweetheart’s Mother


Language(s):Silent, English intertitles

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