As mentioned last week, the BFI’s DVD of Schalcken the Painter includes as extras two short films by other directors. Edward Abraham’s The Pit (1962) is an adaptation of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum which is creditable but lacks the sustained malevolence of Jan Svankmajer’s version. The second film is The Pledge (1981), a 21-minute adaptation by Digby Rumsey of The Highwaymen, a short story by Lord Dunsany. This is unusual for being one of the very few film adaptations of Dunsany, Rumsey being responsible for two others: Nature and Time (1976), and In the Twilight (1978). Since this is a low-budget work it’s no surprise that the story is a historical piece rather than one of the florid fantasies so beloved of HP Lovecraft. A trio of highwaymen decide to rescue the hanging body of their former comrade and inter it in a bishop’s tomb. (The bishop’s bones, they decide, can go in the earth.) The story is so slight it’s more of a curio than anything, and would probably be better seen along with with the other Dunsany adaptations. Of note is a typically jaunty score by Michael Nyman, while Nyman’s later collaborator, Peter Greenaway, assisted with the editing. If nothing else, Greenaway would have appreciated the film’s macabre nature.
Illustration for The Highwaymen by Sidney Sime.
The original story appeared in Dunsany’s 1908 collection The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories. The Internet Archive has a scan of the entire book with illustrations from Sidney Sime’s prime period. The depiction of the scene at the gibbet is a lot more atmospheric than in the film but then that’s the advantage of the illustrator: there’s no need to worry about a budget.