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Christian Bale, Edgar Allan Poe and the West Point Crimes: between parks, living museums and historic cemeteries in the film “The Pale Blue Eye”

Discovering places with a film


One of the most viewed, if not the most popular film of this period for Netflix subscribers, turns out to be “The Pale Blue Eye”, much easier to memorise as “The West Point Murders”. The latest effort by director Scott Cooper, in which actor Christian Bale plays the lead role, develops a gothic story, with rather gloomy hues, in which a mid-19th century detective, a future famous poet, and a lot of diverse humanity circulate among the buildings of what, in fiction, is the West Point military academy. 

The film would be inspired by “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, a writer and journalist born in Boston in 1809 and included among the main characters in the film. It is worth remembering that The Simpsons also paid tribute to Poe's tale by including a themed diorama in the 1994 episode “Lisa's Rival”.

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The mystery thriller style of the West Point murders was appreciated by many, who found it to be an incredibly aesthetically pleasing film, with a historical evocation of great depth. For others, however, it is an overly surgical, detailed film, with code writing, black magic, cerebral interpretations and flashes of the supernatural.

But in addition to the depth of the protagonist, the cinematography and direction, it is the settings and locations chosen as the backdrop for the crimes and subsequent investigations that characterise Scott Cooper's work. The filming of the film took place in the state of Pennsylvania, between Pittsburgh, Westminster College in New Wilmington and Lake Arthur in Lawrence County.

Among the locations chosen are the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, a large monumental cemetery that has stretched over a vast area now incorporated into the city since 1844. A place where the city's history lives on and which is a tourist attraction, to be discovered through the 44 stages of the historical tour.

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What is supposed to be the Hudson River in the film is actually Lake Arthur, part of Moraine State Park, an interesting reservoir that can be admired by travelling along the Glacier Ridge Trail.

Returning to 19th century settings, Cooper's crew chose the Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Beaver County, a living museum set up in a series of buildings dating back to the early decades of the 19th century. 

Other nineteenth-century atmospheres are recaptured at the Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown, an inn and stagecoach post station founded in 1799 and now run by the Ligonier Valley Historical Society to preserve the area's history, buildings and significant sites. In the film, the museum replaces an 1830s tavern, a role the structure actually played at that time.

The Gothic-style buildings of Westminster College in New Wilmington were used to reproduce the interior of the military academy. While McConnells Mill State Park lent its covered bridge and old mill with large wooden wheel to the film. 

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Image Thibault Penin on Unsplash