In October 2014 I posted an updated and extended article about Murders in the Rue Morgue, which I like a lot better now than I did in the 2009 post below! I'll link to it again at the bottom of this post, in case you care to read both perspectives
I remembered this one as being better than it was when I watched it today. Let me reel that in some, I didn't actually dislike Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I had a hard time with the gorilla. Beyond the fog the ideas were far better than the visuals.
For background on the ape I turned to Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas and pretty quickly discovered why I believed I was sometimes looking at a gorilla and other times a chimp. While Charles Gemora played Erik the Ape throughout most of the picture, Universal head Carl Laemmle, Jr. ordered reshoots using close-ups of a real monkey during post-production. While the original players (and the book entry) mourn the loss of the original version featuring Gemora, I'm not so sure. I wasn't a big fan of either version of Erik.
Number two problem: Sydney Fox. My other experience with poor Sydney, who died of an overdose in 1942, was as the ingenue in The Mouthpiece starring Warren William, which I talked about over on my Warren William fan site. She's terrible there and not so good here. With her limited resume I'm not so sure I'm going to have the opportunity to run into Miss Fox again (Note: I enjoyed her a bit more in her debut, The Bad Sister, far more notable for good sister Bette Davis' film debut now).
But Bela Lugosi is fantastic here, absolutely a perfect fit. Despite the distracting unibrow, there is no more menacing site in a 1930s film than Lugosi's face. And what more chilling sound is there than Lugosi's delivery of his lines, filled with short pauses and a little tough to understand, but often delivered with such fury and always a certainty that elevates him from a curiosity into a star. Beyond his natural menace, in Rue Morgue's Dr. Mirakle Lugosi portrays one of his more twisted characters.
Some of Bela's beliefs which are the basis behind the plot of Murders in the Rue Morgue are a bit controversial for 1932! When he first presents Erik to a carnival crowd including Fox and her beau, played by Leon Waycoff (later Leon Ames), he tells the shocked crowd that Erik is the first man. He has an gigantic evolutionary chart behind him as he explains the process to a group largely silenced and shaking their heads and left me wondering what year the Scopes Trial was (1925).
But that's Bela the showman, then, of course, we have Bela the mad scientist. His goal is to combine the blood of Ape and human to prove that man evolved from ape. You can have a look at Bela hard at work towards this task immediately below:
That is Arlene Francis as a prostitute whose blood is being tested by Lugosi's Dr. Mirakle here. Poor girl failed the test.
What Murders in the Rue Morgue never specifically gets to is what happens after a young lady, always a young lady, passes the test as Sydney Fox's Camille later does. Erik the Ape has more than a passing fancy for little Camille. I don't think Murders in the Rue Morgue could have pressed even pre-code era boundaries any more than it does towards illuminating Dr. Mirakle's ultimate goal.
Stand-out scenes include the brutal knife fight witnessed by Lugosi just before he picks up Francis; the discovery of the body of the Fox character's mother, shoved feet first up a chimney, after Erik's rampage; and the rooftop climax with Waycoff/Ames, who really doesn't rate much mention here otherwise.
Murders in the Rue Morgue is a bargain on Amazon where it's included with 4 other Universal horror classics all starring Bela Lugosi: The Bela Lugosi Collection (Murders in the Rue Morgue / The Black Cat / The Raven / The Invisible Ray / Black Friday)
Note to my magazine collecting friends, the first publication of Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue can be found inside the April 1841 issue of Graham's Magazine.
See my October 2014 Murders in the Rue Morgue post HERE.