24 Things We Learned From Roger Corman’s Commentary on ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

By robbery hunter · Published on May 13, 2024

welcome to Comment Comment, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work and then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, robbery hunter reviews Roger Corman’s first adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe with his commentary for The Fall of the House of Usher.

We lost a legend this weekend with the death of the filmmaker Roger Corman. Writer, producer, director, part-time actor: the film lover worked tirelessly to make films, help them reach audiences, and give impetus to new voices. From Jonathan Demme to Jack Nicholson, from Ron Howard to Pam Grier, from Joe Dante to William Shatner, the talents that began with the king are numerous. He produced hundreds of films here at home and at the same time worked to bring non-English films and filmmakers to the attention of American audiences.

The boy loved movies with every bone in his body.

In 1960, he began a handful of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, beginning with The fall of the house of Usher. Corman recorded a few commentary tracks over the years and we chose this one to cover today as a celebration of his accomplishments, interests and talents. Now read on to see what I heard in…

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

Commentator: Roger Corman (director, producer)

1. The first shots of a smoky landscape were “the result of a wildfire in the Hollywood Hills.” He found it to be the perfect introduction, since Poe’s stories are “stories of the unconscious mind” and that “we should not see reality.” To that end, Philip Winthrop (Mark Damonwho also passed away this weekend) approaching the Usher house through the burned field is the only shot of the real world and everything else was filmed on sets depicting the house.

2. The front door of the house opens and Corman chastises himself for not adding any creaks. “But these movies were made on a really low budget and a fast schedule.”

3. The film was shot over fifteen days and was Corman’s longest at the time. Like his other Poe adaptations, the film cost less than $300,000.

4. “This was the first movie I shot with a viewfinder,” he says, adding that he’s not sure if it was CinemaScope or one of the less expensive anamorphic lenses that came after CinemaScope. Still, he’s not sure it was the right choice, as CinemaScope works best when shooting outdoors.

5. The great Vincent Price He was Corman’s first choice for the role of Roderick Usher. They both won numerous awards, “but Vincent won more awards than me for the movie.”

6. “I believed, and still believe, in what we used to call Art History 1A, Articulation of Service.” He refers to the idea that the set should be filled with objects and images, all of which were rented for the productions at quite cheap prices.

7. Madeline Usher was Myrna FaheyHis first leading role, and his last feature film, before embarking on a career in television.

8. All of the Usher House paintings were commissioned from artist Burt Schoenberg. “Everyone in the end took one as a souvenir. “I still have mine.” The one he took was the portrait of Roderick Usher and he was surprised Price hadn’t chosen it himself. In fact, Price decided to keep the eerie red-tinted portrait at 44:45 of captain David Usher.

9. Corman’s film crew had a reputation for being among the best independent crews out there. When they were between films with Corman, other films hired them as a unit instead of them getting new jobs individually.

10. The fall of the house of Usher was the first American International Pictures feature film to be released and screened as an independent film. Before that time, AIP packaged all of their movies into double features: monster movies, sci-fi movies, etc. They also preferred to produce them cheaply and in black and white. Those were Corman’s instructions upon entering The fall of the house of Usher, but “convinced them to make one fifteen-day film in color instead of two ten-day films in black and white.” He says there was some resistance to the idea, including from one of the AIP executives who asked Corman “where’s the monster in House of Usher?” He told the lawsuit that the house itself was the eyesore and they got the green light.

eleven. Corman did not want Roderick Usher to be seen as a monster or feared for his strength or ferocity. Instead, Corman wanted to focus on his intelligence and empathy, and thinks Price did a phenomenal job with the role.

12. It found theater audiences divided in their feelings and loyalties toward the two male leads. “On the one hand, they could identify with Mark as the young man who falls in love and finds himself involved in a strange, romantic situation. However, at the same time, they could identify with… and possibly even think of Vincent as a father figure.”

13. Approximately 70% of AIP’s films were shown in traditional theaters, while the remainder were converted to drive-in theaters. “This type of movie was much more effective on a hardtop,” he says, adding that action movies (biker and gangster) “worked better at drive-ins.”

14. French critics helped establish Corman and Price as “top-tier” talents after seeing the film and reading various things into it, “which was, to a certain extent, what I was trying to put in it, and some things I “They had never really happened.” to me but it occurred to them. But that may be reasonable, it is part of the job of a critic.”

fifteen. Poe’s stories are usually very short, so the films had to elaborate and expand on his ideas to justify a feature-length film. Corman gives writer Richard Matheson immense credit for “his ability to expand the story but remain within Poe’s vision and mind.” He adds that while most writers needed several rewrites to arrive at a shooting script, Matheson’s scripts were often ready from the first draft with only minor changes.

sixteen. He has often been accused of printing the first usable take, but “in reality, he usually did two, three, four takes, something like that.”

17. Corman is a firm believer in “editing” the film in pre-production by storyboarding the entire film, including every shot, scene, and cut. “I would draw all my shots on the blank page of the script, facing the printed page, so that I would have double pages throughout the script, so I could see what I had written and what I had drawn.” More specifically, he says, his storyboards were drawn from above the scene (his engineering degree is the main culprit) with lines and angles showing the actors’ movement. This also meant that he rarely had a finished film that required trimming. “I very, very rarely lost a scene during editing.”

18. “I like the concept of the off-camera scream or sound,” he says, because it suggests that there is more going on around a character than he or she is aware of. “There’s also the fact that sometimes after filming I get the idea that I’d like to have a scream here and I add it in post-production.”

19. Corman had not planned to make any more Poe adaptations while making The fall of the house of Usher, but still made the wise decision to leave the set of stairs (seen at 54:53) and others standing after wrapping production. “We managed to use it in several other films.”

twenty. The fantastic sequence was shot without sound, “an exercise in cinematographic technique,” ​​and it is something that was repeated in the other Poe adaptations.

twenty-one. It has been years since he saw the film again and he had always remembered it as a production full of dialogue. “But now I’m surprised by how many silent shots there were, which I like.”

22. You can hear the joy in his voice when he mentions that the shot at 1:10:33 of the bloody fingers sticking out of the coffin got a big reaction in theaters.

23. He considers the film quite complex for a fifteen-day film, and today he would give one of his directors four or five weeks to achieve the same. “Maybe I’m getting easier with old age.”

24. Most of the house’s destruction was filmed on set, but some shots of burning walls and beams were captured elsewhere. They learned that someone was planning to tear down their barn, so they paid to have it burned down. He did another fire sequence in 1964. The Masque of the Red Deathbut it was filmed in the UK and couldn’t match the fiery goodness on display here “because the English were very, very careful about what they let me do”.

The best in comments without context

“It’s interesting to see the MGM lion roaring in front of the American International logo.”

“I’ve always felt that something appearing quickly from the side of the screen gives it a bit of accent.”

“I haven’t seen this movie in, I would say, at least twenty years, and I actually think it holds up.”

“Matheson is one of the best writers I’ve ever worked with.”

“Let me see this.”

“We knew we were going to have a good time when the fire started.”

Final thoughts

Roger Corman has always been a compelling and engaging speaker on the subject of film, and that continues to be evident in his comments as well. Sure, he’s always in sales mode, but that aspect never dampens the enthusiasm for movies he brings to the conversation. Here he recalls Poe, AIP and the great Vincent Price, and it’s a good listen.

Read more Comment Comment of the files.

Related topics: Comment Comment, Edgar Allan Poe, Roger Corman, Vincent Price

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is strange considering he’s so young. He is our chief film critic and associate editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Don’t hesitate to say hello if you see him on Twitter. @FakeRobHunter.

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