Illustration by Harry Clarke
Of making the film, over at River Campus Library, the co-director, the "American medical doctor, philanthropist, publisher, editor, photographer, and early experimenter in motion pictures" James Sibley Watson explains: "Melville Webber and I started to work on our first entertainment film in the Winter of 1926-27. Melville was scenarist, idea man, scene painter, costume designer, make-up man, director, and also played the part of The Visitor. My part was cranking the camera, lighting the sets and the actors, developing, printing, splicing, and projecting the film. Our preliminary experiments left us with many feet of discards. On the other hand, we had managed to assemble a number of 'properties' that were to be extremely useful when we finally settled down to retelling Poe's story. The 'properties' included a home-made coffin, a cardboard flat painted by Melville to represent the façade of the house of Usher, a short flight of fairly normal steps, and a long flight of steps in miniature. We had also acquired from Scott Sterling, of Bausch & Lomb, prisms and distorting lenses that could be rotated in front of the camera lens. Rotating the latter device causes the subject to appear successively short and wide and then tall and thin, an 'effect' employed to give a sort of rhythm to the scene in which a black-gloved hand smoothes Madeline's burial robe as she lies supine in her coffin. In another scene, The Visitor is reading to Roderick. Here certain key words are emphasized by reflecting the letters in the polished surface of a platter turning on a phonograph turntable, making the syllables ripple. […] All of the effects in Usher had to be done with, or in, the camera. […] Usher was strictly amateur; none of us had had any experience with professional film production, least of all myself. It was only recently that I had become obsessed by the idea of making movies. […] I bought a second-hand Bell & Howell 'studio' camera and a speed movement for it. The standard B&H movement could be adjusted to run two films, and it was in this way that we were able to superimpose a moving horse and rider on a background of moving clouds, the opening scene of our film. Melville, The Visitor, was supposed to be the horseman, but that summer (1928) he was in Paris, and a substitute had to be found for this much-needed outdoor shot. Elizabeth Lasell volunteered to make the ride disguised as The Visitor by a top hat and a cloak improvised from a piece of black cloth. The fact that a woman rider was taking the part of a man was apparently not noticed by anyone who had not been told about it beforehand. […]"
As for short-film versions, the tales has also had its interpretations, the newest possibly being the dully animated The Fall of the House of Usher (2013 / trailer), narrated by Christopher Lee, one of the episodes of the 5-tale Poe anthology, Extraordinary Tales (trailer). The great Jan Švankmajer also tackled the tale in 1982, with Zánik domu Usherú (full short film without subtitles), a mood piece of more subdued nature than most of his projects, while the eternally underappreciated Curtis Harrington (17 Sept 1926 – 6 May 2007) made two short versions of the tale: the first, the 8mm Fall of the House of Usher, opened his directorial career in 1942 at the age of 16, while the second, Usher, closed it in 2000; in both films, he took over the roles of both Roderick Usher and Madeline Usher. Lastly, at least in regard to the short films we could find, Guerdon Trueblood, the man behind the legendary exploitation movie The Candy Snatchers (1973 / trailer), directed a very true-to-the-source, 30-minute version for Encyclopaedia Britannica's Short Story Showcase in 1976 (full film).