The Fall of the House of Usher
[Theme MUSIC in and out.]
ANNOUNCER: Are you upset with today's headlines? Worried about the high cost
of living? Want to get away from it all?
2ND ANNOUNCER: CBS offers you "Escape"!
[MUSIC IN: "Night on Bald Mountain" - then, MUSIC UNDER:]
ANNOUNCER: You are the friend of a man living in death. Confidante of a ghoul.
Witness to a nameless terror. You are a guest in the House of Usher.
2ND ANNOUNCER: The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations
present "Escape" -- produced and directed by William N. Robson -- and
carefully plotted to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of
[Theme MUSIC in and under.]
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, we escape to a gloom-shrouded moor and a house where
dread holds sway as Edgar Allan Poe recounts it in his famous story, "The Fall
of the House of Usher."
[MUSIC UP AND OUT.]
NARRATOR: It is with some regret - but I believe advisable - that I identify
myself only as a friend of Roderick Usher. Certainly the last and perhaps the
only friend of that unhappy man. Having only one sister, he was the last male
descendant of the ancient House of Usher. Roderick had been one of my boon
companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed now since our last
meeting. And so, as I held his letter in my hand, not yet opening it, I
reflected with no little sadness upon the devious fates that chart our courses
and drive old friends away from one another. But then a sudden feverish and
nostalgic curiosity laid hold of me - and, with fingers made clumsy by their
SOUND: [Letter TORN open.]
NARRATOR: ... I tore open the letter and read:
VOICE OF RODERICK: My dear friend: My need of you has so far outgrown my
pride, that I'm going to request a favor which I realize full well may involve
considerable inconvenience to yourself. For some time past, I have been
suffering from an acute bodily illness -- illness intensified by serious
mental oppression, if I may so call it. A horror which looms over me, a horror
grown so great, I dare no longer face it alone. And so, in all humility, and
for the sake of years gone by, I beseech you to come to me at once, here to
the family estate in the north. Should events conspire to prevent your coming,
then only God may know the consequences. Your friend in desperation, Roderick
[MUSIC IN AND UNDER]
NARRATOR: And so it happened that at the end of a dull, dark and soundless day
in the middle of October, I found myself, as the shades of evening drew on,
within view of the grim and melancholy House of Usher.
I confess that the first sight of the house -- the fungus-covered walls of
stone thrusting their crumbling ramparts against the darkening sky, rising out
of the sullen, sluggish waters of the black tarn at their base, the bleak and
vacant windows staring blindly, the bone-white trunks of decaying trees --
these things filled me with a nameless and desolate terror so that I reined in
my horse and sat trembling, half-fearing to cross the wooden bridge that led
over the waters of the moat and up to the entrance of the House of Usher.
Then, impatiently, I shook off this strange feeling of dread ...
SOUND: [IN AGREEMENT WITH FOLLOWING:]
NARRATOR: ... and was, an instant later, clattering over the wooden bridge and
on to the courtyard. I dismounted quickly, tossed my reins to the silent
lackey who approached, strode across the gravel and up to the massive wooden
portal -- the door of the House of Usher.
SOUND: [Repeated KNOCKS on wooden door, door UNLOCKS and SQUEAKS open.]
NARRATOR: Good afternoon. My name is--
VALET: I know. You're the friend of Master Roderick. Please come inside, sir.
NARRATOR: Thank you. But-- May I inquire how it happens you know me?
VALET: You have been expected for some time, sir.
NARRATOR: Yes, true. But, also, I'm a stranger to you and could be some other
VALET: That you could be anyone other than the friend whom Master Roderick
expects, sir, would be impossible. You see, no one else would ever come to
SOUND: [Door SQUEAKS shut, FOOTSTEPS.]
NARRATOR: Then I followed his stealthy footsteps through many dark and
intricate passages. My earlier foreboding heightened and was made fearful by
the somber aspect of the hallways by which we passed, the many unused rooms
reaching out with their vast emptiness, like some hideous jungle creeper. But,
at length, we stood before the door of the master's studio. And there the
servant left me. Departed and left me - to go in alone.
SOUND: [Doorknob TURNS, door OPENS.]
NARRATOR: The man across the room, half-reclining on the couch, his back
turned toward me, did not hear the opening of the door. For the space of
several heartbeats, I saw only the deathly pale and ghastly sunken features of
a stranger. Then, only with difficulty could I recognize, behind that mask, my
boyhood friend. For, surely, under light of Heaven, no man had ever before so
terribly altered, in so brief a time, as had Roderick Usher.
SOUND: [Door SHUTS.]
RODERICK: Oh! Oh, my friend, my friend, you've come at last. Thank God you did
NARRATOR: Oh, Roderick, did you not know I would? Could you not be sure that
no long years would ever dim the friendship we shared in youth?
RODERICK: Hmm. So many things have dimmed. Aha, youth! It seems so long ago.
But now you're here and we'll find it, relive it all over again, every
glorious moment of it. And all these shadows, all these gibbering phantoms
that haunt me -- they'll be driven out. And then the sun will shine again. And
we'll be young again and we'll--
RODERICK: Ah, oh, but forgive me, my friend. My excessive joy at the sight of
you after so many years drives me into a frenzy of talk. How many years has
it--? Ah ha, no matter. It is enough that you are here. Here and brought with
you all the lost, all the happy days of my boyhood.
NARRATOR: But I - I'd expected from your letter to find you in serious straits
indeed. Instead, you seem in the best of spirits.
RODERICK: You have the right to know. But, in all frankness, here in your
presence, I find it difficult to credit important are those things which only
yesterday filled me with terror. Eh, true, I've been ill. A nervous
affliction, something in the nature of a family weakness probably. It has
affected me with a morbid acuteness of the senses such that, quite often, the
least sounds and odors and colors become irritating beyond endurance. I've
eaten but little, as you can see.
NARRATOR: But, surely, you've retained the services of a physician.
RODERICK: A physician? [amused] Oh, yes, of course. He calls almost daily.
Though it is more often Madeline that he attends. You remember my twin sister
Madeline? For her I fear more greatly than for myself. Even today, she's taken
to her bed and I have no doubt - will never rise from it again.
NARRATOR: Oh, what tragedy. The sympathies of my heart go out to you.
RODERICK: Oh, but - but leave it for the present. Leave it to dream of all
those happy days we left so far behind. Everything will be different now that
you're here. Do you remember when we were--?
[CHEERY WALTZ MUSIC enters on "those happy days we left" and stays UNDER:]
NARRATOR: But the happy forgetfulness which Roderick found in my coming was
short-lived. And, in a few days, he had sunk into a morose torpor ...
[MUSIC DARKENS UNDER]
NARRATOR: ... from which only occasionally, with frantic difficulty, could he
reach the joy of our first few hours of meeting. More often, his mental apathy
was broken by bursts of vicious temper and violent ill humor. This I could
only excuse on the basis of his illness. And that illness began, in my mind,
to assume a most mysterious character. Being unable to divine its true nature
from Roderick's hesitant offerings, I took the liberty of questioning the
physician a few days later when I chanced to encounter him in a hallway.
PHYSICIAN: Yes. Yes, she's resting as well as might be expected.
NARRATOR: But she continues to decline? Is that not correct, Doctor?
PHYSICIAN: That would seem to be the case.
NARRATOR: And, uh, the malady -- the illness which has stricken her -- is it
the same as that which affects her brother Roderick?
PHYSICIAN: I may venture that it is.
NARRATOR: Might I inquire the nature of this illness?
PHYSICIAN: As to that, I am unable to say.
NARRATOR: You imply, then, that I have no right to the information?
PHYSICIAN: Not at all. I am confessing to you quite simply, sir, I do not know
what afflicts Madeline and Roderick Usher.
[MUSIC IN AND UNDER]
NARRATOR: And so a week passed. A week in which the sullen, leaden skies
darkened into deeper oppressiveness - in which Roderick's deathly pallor and
creeping mental dissolution grew more apparent. A week in which the monstrous
atmosphere of this ancient mausoleum began to crawl insidiously within my own
consciousness, stirring into life a formless, unknown dread.
[MUSIC ... A VIOLIN]
NARRATOR: Then, one evening, we were sitting in the vaulted studio while the
first shadows of night began to flow together into pools of darkness. Roderick
had been unusually troubled during the day and had been trying to find some
solace by playing on the violin. Of a sudden, there came a knock upon the
SOUND: [KNOCKING at the door.]
RODERICK: Stop it! Stop that infernal pounding, do you hear?! Do you wish to
drive me completely mad?! Open the door and come in! Come in!
SOUND: [Door OPENS.]
NARRATOR: [narrates] It's the doctor.
RODERICK: Well?! What is it?! What do you want?!
PHYSICIAN: Master Usher, I regret that I must say this but it is my sad duty
to inform you that your sister Madeline is no longer living.
RODERICK: Madeline, my sister? Then she's dead?
PHYSICIAN: She breathes no more.
RODERICK: Dead? [laughs hysterically] And, perhaps, my dear doctor, you can
tell me what caused her death.
PHYSICIAN: Unfortunately, I can only take refuge in the term "heart failure."
RODERICK: Heart failure? [laughs hysterically, incoherently] Yes, yes! Of
course! [instantly calm] Very well, doctor. If you will be kind enough to
wait, I'll come down directly and discuss the arrangements.
PHYSICIAN: At your service. I bid you good afternoon, gentlemen.
SOUND: [Door SHUTS.]
NARRATOR: Roderick. I assure you of my deepest sympathy.
RODERICK: You do? Your deepest sympathy? The doctor regrets his sad duty? ARE
YOU FOOLS?! BOTH OF YOU, FOOLS?!
NARRATOR: I - I don't understand.
RODERICK: Haven't you seen it yet? Can you not feel it about you? The horrid,
monstrous, brooding spirit of this accursed house? Can't you hear its evil
laughter as it lurks in the hallways and grows fat upon the soul of my dead
RODERICK: Can't you see that it matters nothing to me that she's dead? That I
myself walk but a few steps behind her into the same shadows of hell? Can't
you sense those hideous tentacles even now reaching out for me? For me! Oh,
now, the last living -- if it be living -- the last living descendant of the
accursed House of Usher.
[MUSIC BRIDGE AND UNDER, BELLS TOLL]
NARRATOR: Such was the passing of Madeline Usher -- once living, now dead. And
her very death, untimely in its aspects, bore to my trembling soul a portent
of events yet more hideous, more horrible - and yet to come.
[MUSIC BRIDGE AND UNDER]
NARRATOR: At a later hour of that same sad night, Roderick came into my
chamber to voice an intention so morbidly unnatural that, for the moment, I
could only feel that his tottering reason had at last failed him entirely.
RODERICK: Then you refuse?!
NARRATOR: But - but, Roderick, this is madness.
RODERICK: I tell you, before this night is over, the coffined body of my
sister shall rest in the vault beneath this house and if you will not help me,
I shall do it myself!
NARRATOR: But why? Why?
RODERICK: I could not stand to think of her buried out there in the dark
graveyard - alone among the dead.
NARRATOR: Roderick, she too is dead.
RODERICK: It's fantastic how little we know of death or of life. The doctor
says she no longer breathes.
NARRATOR: She is dead.
RODERICK: She was so lovely was my sister.
RODERICK: I must keep Madeline near me.
NARRATOR: Nothing but evil could come of such an act.
RODERICK: [whispers] I can trust no one - but you. Not even the physician
himself. He hates us because he can't discover what it is that kills us. Even
he might steal the body of my beloved sister. And he might learn our secret.
You understand, don't you, my friend?
NARRATOR: Yes, Roderick. Yes. I understand.
[MUSIC IN AND UNDER]
NARRATOR: And so it came about, near midnight. We two alone made our way to an
upper chamber of the house. And, taking up the black coffin between us ...
SOUND: [FOOTSTEPS on stone.]
NARRATOR: ... in the shuddering light of candles, we walked the tortuous
passageways, slowly descended the curving stairs of stone, passed beneath the
moldy level of the earth ...
SOUND: [Metal door OPENS.]
NARRATOR: ... forced open the massive and aged, rusted door of iron and stood
at last with our ghastly burden in a subterranean, dank and musty crypt -
underneath the House of Usher.
RODERICK: Over here, my friend, on these trestles. Now, a trifle higher with
SOUND: [Coffin PLACED in position.]
RODERICK: There. Oh, may you sleep in peace and dream, sweet sister, from I
who tread the same path soft behind you.
NARRATOR: Come, Roderick. The thing is done.
RODERICK: Oh, wait. Stay a moment. We've not yet to fix the coffin lid. See?
I've left it loose so it can be turned back.
NARRATOR: No. I beg you.
RODERICK: I'll ask farewell, no more.
SOUND: [Coffin lid OPENED.]
RODERICK: Look. Is she not beautiful?
NARRATOR: Yes. She was very beautiful.
RODERICK: Was? Yes, yes, of course. The look of her confused me. But do you
not see it, too? The warm glow of the cheeks, the eyes shut softly, those lips
half-parted. Does it not seem that she may rise up and speak to us at any
NARRATOR: This gruesome place inspires those morbid fancies.
RODERICK: Morbid fancies? But now dead she seems to live and living seems
NARRATOR: Man, you seek out madness. You court it with your very thoughts.
RODERICK: And if I do, what matters? What value can there be in reason without
the hope of life?! Dead, you say to me, she is dead. Then what certainty will
not with equal reason say instead she lives? And that I - I, the last of
Usher, am the one who is already dead?
[MUSIC IN AND UNDER]
NARRATOR: I prevailed upon my friend at last to leave that mournful place. And
so, with grim finality, we secured the open lid, picked up our flickering
candles and departed from the crypt - leaving it alone with its darkness and
death. The ponderous portal closed behind us ...
SOUND: [Metal door SHUTS.]
NARRATOR: ... and then my soul, for one brief instant, felt the dread and
awful meaning of eternity.
There followed then a week of such dreary gloom and melancholy that my own
spirit quavered at the menace of the nameless thing enshadowed in that house.
By perceptible degrees, the living soul of Roderick Usher flickered lower.
More ghastly grew his pallor, more tremulous the extremity of his terror.
The eighth day following the death of Lady Madeline fell upon the last day of
grim and gray October and brought with it, as the curtains of night descended,
the fitful breath of a rising tempest. Uneasy gusts of sodden rain and the
sound of sullen thunderous rumbles borne of the dim flares of sheet lightning
somewhere behind the lowering squall. I retired at a late hour but found sleep
impossible. At length, overpowered by some strange presentiment of evil, I
found my reposeful inaction no longer endurable and so I arose, threw on my
clothes in haste and fell to pacing the floor of my darkened chamber. Then, in
one instant, a soft sound ...
SOUND: [Door latch OPENS, wind WHISTLES, THUNDER]
NARRATOR: ... from the blackness froze my steps in paralysis of terror. The
latch of my chamber door was being lifted from without.
SOUND: [Door slowly CREAKS open, wind WHISTLES, THUNDER.]
NARRATOR: Who is it? Who is it, I say?
RODERICK: It is I, Roderick.
NARRATOR: Oh. Oh, Roderick. What are you doing up and about at this hour -- in
pitch blackness? Wait. Let me light the candles.
RODERICK: No. I am quite used to darkness. I heard your footsteps and knew
that you must be awake even as I was. But - [suddenly excited] Can it be that
you've not seen it?!
NARRATOR: I don't understand you. I've seen nothing.
RODERICK: Then stay. You shall see it! Even as I've seen it for these past two
hours! Wait, wait, I'll throw open the casement window!
SOUND: [Window OPENS, wind WHISTLES louder.]
NARRATOR: It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one
wildly singular in its terror and in its beauty. The exceeding density of the
clouds, which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house, did not
prevent our perceiving the velocity with which they flew careening from all
points against one another. We had no glimpse of the moon or stars but,
terrible to behold, the under-surfaces of the huge cloud masses, as well as
all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural
light of a faintly luminous and clearly visible phosphorescence which hung
like a shroud about the mansion itself.
RODERICK: You see, my friend. Tonight, the thing grows bold, gathers strength
from the storm and from the dead souls eaten.
NARRATOR: No! No, Roderick, you must not look at this! Here, I shall close
this window and pull these curtains.
SOUND: [Window CLOSES, storm NOISES retreat, curtains PULLED, candle is LIT.]
NARRATOR: And now, candlelight. Such darkness is the very mother of evil fear.
There. Now, come. Sit here. Suppose I read aloud from some book or another.
RODERICK: [uninterested] Mm, as you wish.
NARRATOR: I presume it matters little which. Ah. Here. Here is a volume of the
"Mad Trist" by Canning. Will it serve?
RODERICK: As you said, it matters little.
NARRATOR: I've always found the scene to be quite entertaining wherein
Ethelred dreams of fighting a dragon.
SOUND: [FLIPPING pages of the book.]
NARRATOR: Now, let's see. Oh, yes. Here it is. [reads aloud] "And so Ethelred
waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit who mocked him from inside the
hut but feeling the rain upon his back and fearing the rising of the tempest,
uplifted his axe and quickly made a hole in the plankings of the door for his
gauntleted hand; and now pulling sturdily, he so cracked and ripped all
asunder, that the noise of ..."
SOUND: [Dry wood CRACKING.]
NARRATOR: [hearing the sound, reads uneasily] "... the dry and hollow-sounding
wood alarumed and reverberated - throughout the forest."
RODERICK: Why do you stop?
NARRATOR: Why, er - [clears throat nervously] That's - that's strange. I
fancied I just heard the very sound I read about.
RODERICK: Let us say it was caused by the storm. Pray continue.
NARRATOR: Oh, yes, the storm. Of course. [clears throat, reads aloud] "But -
but Ethelred, upon entering the door, was - was amazed to perceive no sign of
the evil hermit; but, instead, a dragon of prodigious and scaly demeanour,
which sat on guard before a shield of shining brass. And Ethelred uplifted his
axe, and struck the head of the dragon, which fell before him with a shriek so
horrid and harsh ..."
SOUND: [Horrid and harsh SHRIEK.]
NARRATOR: ... like whereof was never before--" Wha - what sound is that?
RODERICK: Sound? The shriek of a dragon, my friend. Read on.
NARRATOR: I, er-- [pause] Very well. [reads aloud] "And now, the champion,
bethinking himself of the shield of brass, approached across the silver floor
to where the shield hung upon the wall. But the shield, not waiting for his
coming, loosed and fell upon the silver floor ..."
SOUND: [Metal CRASHES.]
NARRATOR: "... with a mighty great ..." Roderick, I tell you, something moves
within this house! That sound. It reverberated through the very walls. Can you
tell me now you did not hear it?
RODERICK: Hear it now? Oh, yes, I hear it and have heard it long moments,
hours, many days have I heard it. Yet I dared not speak.
NARRATOR: But why?
RODERICK: Do you not know we put her living in the tomb? I tell you now, I
heard her first feeble movements in the coffin many, many days ago. And I felt
that it mattered little but now she comes to upbraid me for my haste! And that
last dread sound -- yes, I heard it! -- the opening of the metal door to the
crypt beneath the house. Now - she comes here! Have I not heard her footsteps
on the stair? Do I not distinguish the heavy and horrible beating of her heart
-- madman that I am? I tell you that she now stands without that door.
SOUND: [Door OPENS.]
RODERICK: But even now she opens it!
NARRATOR: There, in the flickering light of candles, in the gloom-encurtained
doorway stood the shrouded body of Lady Madeline. For one shuddering instant,
she swayed there. Then as Roderick uttered a single piteous cry, she fell upon
him in violent and now final death-agonies - and bore him to the floor - a
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast, out the massive
portal, over the causeway, into the night. Suddenly there shot along the path
a wild light. Then I looked back in heightened terror for the vast house and
its shadows were alone behind me.
The baleful gleam came from the setting, full and blood-red moon which now
shone vividly through a widening crack in the walls of the house itself. And
even as I gazed, this fissure opened rapidly! There came a fierce breath of
the tempest! The entire lunar orb burst at once upon my sight! My brain reeled
as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder! There came a long tumultuous
shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters!
And - and the dark, deep tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently forever
over the pitiful ruins of the ancient House of Usher.
[MUSIC UP AND OUT]
2ND ANNOUNCER: "Escape" is produced and directed by William N. Robson and
tonight brought you "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe,
adapted for radio by Les Crutchfield with Paul Frees as the Narrator, Ramsey
Hill as Roderick Usher, and Sheridan Hall as the Physician. The special
musical score was conceived and conducted by Cy Feur.
[Theme MUSIC in and out.]
2ND ANNOUNCER: Next week...
ANNOUNCER: You are the victim of a Porroh Man, pursued from the west coast of
Africa to the West End of London by a dead man's head - which grins at you
[MUSIC IN: "Night on Bald Mountain" and OUT.]
2ND ANNOUNCER: Next week, "Escape" with H. G. Wells' gripping story "Pollock
and the Porroh Man." Good night, then, until this same time next week when CBS
again offers you, "Escape."
[MUSIC IN AND UNDER]
2ND ANNOUNCER: This is CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Broadcast date: 22 October 1947