The Fall of the House of Usher (1948)
the fall of the house of usher | ivan barnett | dorothy catt | kenneth thompson | gwen watford | kaye tendeter | irving steen | based on | novel | edgar allan poe | remake | united kingdom | vernon charles | lucy pavey | gavin lee | connie goodwin | curse
Film: The Fall of the House of Usher
Director: Ivan Barnett
Writer: Dorothy Catt and Kenneth Thompson
Starring: Gwen Watford, Kaye Tendeter and Irving Steen
This was a version of the movie I actually didn’t know existed. It popped up when I was looking for movies that were released in 1950. Now I’m a bit confused as the Internet Movie Database has this as 1948, which I’m wondering if it got released in the United States in 1950. Regardless, I’m still treating this as a 1950 film for my Journey Through the Aughts segment on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. The synopsis here is a traveler arrives at the Usher mansion to visit his old friend, Roderick Usher (Kaye Tendeter). Upon his arriving, he discovers that Roderick and his sister Madeline (Gwen Watford), have been afflicted with a mysterious malady.
We start this movie with a man parking his car and then going into a club of sorts. Inside, they’ve shared a story and it sounds like they’re gearing up to hear another one. One man doesn’t like horror, but it is insisted to listen to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. The one who suggested it finds the book on the shelf that contains this work and reads it to his friends.
It then follows Jonathan (Irving Steen) as he rides to the Usher mansion. He states he hasn’t made this journey in awhile, but remembers the way as if second nature. The trees are trying to stop him it seems, yet he continues on. It is there he meets with his old friend Roderick. The movie also introduces us to Madeline while she plays piano. Someone brings her a glass of milk, which she drinks, plays a bit more and then goes to bed. The shot also lingers on the glass after she does.
This is where things get a bit confusing to me. It seems like it goes back farther to fill us in on the curse that has befallen the house of Usher. Roderick learns from Dr. Cordwell (Vernon Charles) that the curse is due to his father killing a man. Roderick’s father commanded they never go through the marshes or forest behind the house. Dr. Cordwell reveals the reason is there’s a temple back there, with torture devices in it. Madeline overhears this information and follows as Dr. Cordwell takes Roderick to this temple.
Inside is where a horrible discovery is made. Their mother was having an affair and their father discovered this. He killed the man she was seeing, but not before he put the curse on the family and the house. There’s a hag who is living in the temple, Lucy Pavey, who is actually Roderick and Madeline’s mother. Her face from grief and pain has morphed into a hideous look. She is protecting the head of her lover, but it needs to be burned in order to lift the curse. Dr. Cordwell wants Roderick to reach out to someone to help them. He refuses to involve Jonathan and gets Richard (Tony Powell-Bristow) instead. Things don’t go as planned though and Madeline is deteriorating. Can the curse be broken before it is too late?
Now I’ve read this short story from Poe before and if memory serves, I’ve read it for class in college as well as in my own leisure. It is probably one of my favorites and it actually sticks with me, so I can be a bit more critical when it comes to movies that are adapting the material. I think this does a well enough job there. It isn’t overly long so it makes sense to really flesh it out; you need to add material which is what we have here.
Having said that, I do like what they added to this movie. This idea that the curse has a potential to be broken intrigues me. I’ve always taken the story to be there were issues with either incest where Madeline and Roderick are deteriorating due to that or from just isolation. This movie is stating that there is a curse that was put upon them and if they don’t break it, it will mean ruin for them. I’m on board with this idea. My issue is that we get this subplot for about 10 minutes or so and we never come back to it. It does slightly play into the ending, but I wanted more.
This movie also introduces something where I’m wondering if Dr. Cordwell is poisoning Madeline. It is even questioned at the end, which makes me feel better about me thinking that. It could be that he is doing this on his own or that Roderick asks him to as he’s descending into madness. He could be using Munchhausen syndrome of keeping her sick so she needs him. As I’ve said, I’ve always wondered if the Ushers, who tend to be born as twins of the opposite sex. Have they been marrying one another as another possible explanation to what is going on here?
There’s really not a lot to this movie aside from the built in story and what is added for this version. The movie has a runtime of 70 minutes and I think that with what they introduced, they could have fleshed out a bit more. Despite the short runtime, I have to admit that I did find myself bored. It is really a shame though to be honest.
Taking this next to the acting, no one really stood out to me. I’d have to give most of the credit to Tendeter as he gets the most screen time. He plays the role fine in my opinion and I like that we can see his mental health deteriorating as things go on. Watford is fine in her role as well. What I like here is that she seems more normal, but we see there’s something up with the milk that she is given. She goes downhill as the movie goes. I don’t completely trust Charles’ character, so that means I liked his performance enough. Steen is fine and the look of Pavey was solid to help round out this movie in my opinion.
The last thing to go over briefly would be the effects of the movie. Being that this is 1948 when this was made, they didn’t have a lot and didn’t necessarily need a lot. The lightning we see looks of the era and I have a soft spot there. The house at the ending I could tell was a model, but again, I like the practical approach. Aside from that would be the look of the severed head in temple which I liked, this image gets super-imposed at one point which worked. Then there’s the look of the hag, which was creepy. Aside from that, the cinematography was on par with the era and quite stationary.
So now with that said, this isn’t as good as the Roger Corman adaptation of this story. I liked what they tried to do by adding a subplot, but they just didn’t take it far enough for me. They do well though in bringing to life the story from Poe. The acting is fine across the board. It has a low runtime which does work against it as I still found it boring and there’s the missed opportunity to do a bit more to really make this a solid version of the story. The effects were of the era and the soundtrack didn’t really stand out to me. I wasn’t the biggest fan here, but I would say this is just below average for me. A bit more tweaked and this could have been over that threshold, but just isn’t enough for me.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 10