Murders in the Rue Morgue is a 1932 American horror feature film directed by Robert Florey (The Beast with Five Fingers) from a screenplay co-written with Ethel M. Kelly, Tom Reed and Dale Van Every, plus [uncredited] John Huston. It was very loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe‘s 1841 short story of the same name. The Universal production stars Sidney Fox, Bela Lugosi, Leon Ames and Bert Roach.
This film was apparently produced as a compensatory package for Lugosi and Florey, after both were dropped from the 1931 Frankenstein. Florey was replaced as director by James Whale, as producer Carl Laemmle Jr. was both unsatisfied with Florey’s work on the project, and had given Whale first choice of any Universal property at the time.
Despite the film being pre-Code, violent sequences prompted Universal to cut its running time from 80 minutes to 61 minutes. Unfortunately, the box office returns for Murders in the Rue Morgue were disappointing, and Lugosi’s original Universal contract for Dracula was not extended.
Sideshow lecturer Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) and his ‘ape with a human brain’ Erik (Charles Gemora) take an unhealthy interest in Camille L’Espanaye (Sidney Fox). Mirakle uses his servant Janos (Noble Johnson) to find out where Camille lives.
When a woman he kidnaps off the streets (Arlene Francis) fails a blood compatibility test, he murders her. She’s just one of several victims who end up dumped into the Seine. Mirakle is intent on subjecting Camille to his weird experiments — but what exactly is he trying to achieve?
“The narrow streets of Paris seem perpetually shrouded in a semi-mist, and the old buildings loom over the streets at improbable angles. Lugosi hams it up as he always did, but somehow the movie would be less without his peculiarly mangled style of acting.” Richard Cross, 20/20 Movie Reviews
“Lugosi supplies an essential touch of rudimentary European mystery through non-acting tricks and his bewitching deconstruction of the English language […] Florey lacked James Whale‘s narrative rhythm and Tod Browning‘s authentic empathy. The result is a case of style over substance, with the style supplied by others.” Alfred Eaker, 366 Weird Movies
“The film’s stronger elements — a woman’s death in Mirakle’s lab, another who is murdered and left stuffed in a chimney — come across even more powerfully thanks to the fine cinematography of the masterful Karl Freund (Metropolis) […] Director Robert Florey does a solid job of keeping the action moving and the audience on its toes despite a script that does have its occasional lame points.” Patrick Legare, All Movie
“Beefed up with interesting sets that recall German Expressionist horrors of the silent era, the film is mostly badly acted and poorly written, with Lugosi’s eccentric performance being the sole ingredient that makes if of interest today. The gorilla is mainly an actor in a laughable furry suit and mask…” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
” …a hugely enjoyable mess, often derided for its awkward acting and logic-challenged story. Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle is a total nut-job whose carnival sideshow is little more than a display of an ape named Erik and a distorted lecture on evolution. It emphasizes evolution as a (still-potent) threat to religious beliefs and mocks the idea that a special divinity sets man apart from the rest of creation.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
” …the Caligari-like sets are great, the use of light and shadows (especially in Lugosi’s presentation of the ape) is wonderful, and a great deal of wit is evident in the proceedings. It lags a little in the middle of the movie, and, despite the fact that Mirakle has a gorilla (played by Charlie Gemora), they keep intercutting shots of a real chimpanzee in key scenes…” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“It is always a nostalgic joy to watch Lugosi at the peak of his scenery chewing powers. Despite the drippiness of its romantic leads, it remains a fascinating example of the homicidal ape sub-genre. Arguably, it has yet to receive proper due for its lasting influence.” Joe Bendel, J.B. Spins
” …Robert Florey reaches back to German Expressionism and in particular The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919). The streets of Paris are designed as a stylised world of arched black-and-white shadows, which gives the film a strikingly ornate look that many later, cheaper mad scientist films lack.” Richard Scheib, Moria
“The entire production suffers from an overzealous effort at terrorization, and the cast, inspired by the general hysteria, succumbs to the temptation to overact. Miss Sidney Fox and Leon Waycoff are the romantic leads and Bert Roach supplies some tepid comedy.” The New York Times, 1932
“Without music (in the early days of talkies, most films had no music track), the ape scenes are really bland and laughable and considering the sheer quality of most every other Universal horror flick to come out of their early cycle, the movie is a big letdown. One thing the film has going for it is it has a bit more implied violence…” Brett H., Oh, the Horror!
“The movie often falls back on comedy, and that definitely isn’t to everyone’s cup of tea. In spite of that, Murders in the Rue Morgue may be one of the more consistently morbid films from the era, often preying upon fears of scientific malfeasance and thinly-veiled implications of miscegenation to excite the audience.” Pre Code
“What the film does have in its favour is an attractively gothic look, with long shadows, atmospheric sets and the blessing of that photography, a few tricks such as grotesque closeups helping keep that air of menace. What it isn’t, despite the odd similarity to its source, is a decent Poe adaptation…” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image
“This 1932 horror may not boast the strongest of plots. But it’s certainly worth seeing for Lugosi’s electrically-charged performance. His portrayal of the Darwin-obsessed Mirakle yields up some creepy acting from the horror icon. And he’s sporting one of his coolest looks ever in this one.” The Terror Trap
Cast and characters:
- Sidney Fox … Mlle. Camille L’Espanaye
- Bela Lugosi … Doctor Mirakle
- Leon Ames … Pierre Dupin (as Leon Waycoff)
- Bert Roach … Paul
- Betty Ross Clarke … Mme. L’Espanaye
- Brandon Hurst … Prefect of Police
- D’Arcy Corrigan … Morgue Keeper
- Noble Johnson … Janos The Black One
- Arlene Francis … Woman of the Streets
- Ted Billings … Sideshow Spectator (uncredited)
- Herman Bing Herman Bing … Franz Odenheimer (uncredited)
- Joe Bonomo … Gorilla (uncredited)
- Agostino Borgato … Alberto Montani (uncredited)
- Iron Eyes Cody … Indian at Sideshow (uncredited)
- Christian J. Frank … Gendarme Using Snuff (uncredited)
- Charles Gemora … Erik, the Gorilla (uncredited)
- Harrison Greene … Sideshow Barker (uncredited)
- Charlotte Henry … Blonde Girl in Sideshow Audience (uncredited)
- Harry Holman … Victor Albert Adolph Jules Hugo Louis Dupont, the Landlord (uncredited)
- Edna Marion … Mignette (uncredited)
- Torben Meyer … The Dane (uncredited)
- Charles Millsfield … Bearded Man at Sideshow (uncredited)
- Monte Montague … Workman / Gendarme (uncredited)
- John T. Murray … Gendarme (uncredited)
- Tempe Pigott … Crone (uncredited)
- Dorothy Vernon … Tenant (uncredited)
- Michael Visaroff … Mirakle’s Sideshow Barker (uncredited)
- Polly Ann Young … Girl (uncredited)
Some images are courtesy of Pre Code
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