The Fall of the House of Usher (1949), directed by Ivan Barnett


Appallingly amateurish adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, reissued not once but twice, due to its apparent popularity. Stunningly faithful to the source — the screenwriters, director, and stars quote the story as if Poe had been writing for film — except in the addition of a bizarre subplot having to do with the Usher twins’ parents who, in this version, are directly responsible for their children’s terrible sickness of mind and body that is the subject of the movie. The fudged and illogical climax is nevertheless a welcome indication of the nearness of the final shot. Like to laugh at Plan 9? Put this one on instead and your friends will think you’re a genius.


Poe’s story cribbed several elements from a German tale that was translated by John Hardman and published in Blackwood’s, a magazine Poe so much enjoyed that he satirized it in a couple of his own tales. Diane Long Hoeveler, in her formidably titled article, “Reading Poe Reading Blackwood’s: The Palimpsestic Subtext in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,'” puts an even darker spin on it, when she calls the magazine a “treasure trove of sources for Poe and one that he was so anxious about that he satirized its popularity….” The story in this case, by the way, is “The Robber’s Tower,” and it is available for free online.

The “bizarre subplot” mentioned in my review is echoed in part by a story — involving the owner, his wife, and a sailor — of the real Usher House in Boston. Since the story was evidently told in a book published in 1915, it seems likely (statistically speaking) that it served as the basis for this element of the film. And if we factor this in, the damn thing is still utterly absurd.


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