The Fall of the
House of Usher (1928)
Directed by James Sibley Watson
& Melville Webber
This silent film version of Edgar Allan Poe's
classic tale has a runtime of just thirteen minutes and although only
short it offers an interesting interpretation of the story. Viewers who
are already familiar with Poe's story will probably have a better
understanding of what is going on, but even those who have never read
"The Fall of the House of Usher" should still enjoy this little slice
of cinematic history.
The film has a surreal feel to it and some interesting effects are
created by tilting of the camera, which is just one of many ways
employed to offers a distorted picture of reality in the House of Usher.
One of my favourite scenes occurs about four minutes into the film. A
dazed Madeline Usher is wandering the corridors and stairways of the
house and, in fact, looks to be almost sleepwalking, when she sees a
coffin leaned against the wall. At this point several thing all happen
at once. Madeline slumps her shoulders and, seeming to be filled with
despair, collapses in front of the casket, resting her hand against it.
Meanwhile, at the top of the screen the shadow of a hammer appears,
rising and falling and obviously representative of the fact that she
will soon be nailed inside the coffin. At the same time the screen is
framed to the left and the right by an overlay of some stairs. They are
angled at about forty-five degrees and dropping downwards in an
escalator-like fashion, seeming symbolic of Madeline being
caught up in the machinations of the house. And all of this is
happening under the covert scrutiny of a white-faced man (the
traveller), who is dressed all in black and who, quite frankly, gives
me the creeps.
This version of "The Fall of the House of Usher" is
filled with symbolism and I am sure that every viewer will have his or
her own interpretation of what everything means but make of it what you
will, it is a true gem.
Herbert Stern ...
Hildegarde Watson ... Madeline Usher
Melville Webber ... A Traveller
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