Written and directed by: Robert Florey
Produced by: Carl Laemmle Jr.
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďI tell you, I will prove your kinship with the ape! Erikís blood shall be mixed with the blood of man!Ē
Amidst the flurry of classic horror concocted in the early to mid thirties, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff teamed up to bring forth two iconic films ďbasedĒ on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935) are hands down two of the best examples of gothic horror ever created. Two years prior, Universal tried their hand at the works of Poe with Bela Lugosi alone as they tackled their adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story, Murders in the Rue Morgue. Rather than focus on revenge and madness like the movies the followed it, Murders in the Rue Morgue is about a mad scientist and his ape. A thirties gorilla movie? You just know things are going to get very, very silly.
Camille (Sidney Fox) and Pierre (Leon Ames) are a cute young couple and one night they decided to take in the travelling carnival coming through Paris sometime in 1815. Along with their friends, they take in the shows, especially the belly dancers. They opt to wander into the tent of Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi), who is convinced that man has evolved from the ape and takes his allotted time at the sideshow explaining this, rather than exploiting freaks. Little does the young couple know, Dr. Mirakle and his gorilla, Erik have taken quite a liking to little Camille. Dr. Mirakle will stop at nothing to prove his theory, as he plans to inject a female virgin (if he could only find oneÖ) with the blood of the ape, hoping that the woman would stay alive, thus proving the connection as the blood of each species combines as one.
Out of all of all of the Universal horrors Iíve seen in my time, I enjoyed Murders in the Rue Morgue the least. Although its tie to Poe is somewhat stronger than in the similar films that came a mere few years after it, this one just didnít draw me in. It could be the fact that at the end of the day itís a gorilla movie that unlike the Poe story focuses more on the gorilla rather than the detective work involved in catching the murderer. Even at 61 minutes, the film is pretty boring and most of the good scenes all involve Bela Lugosi and his unique unibrow. Itís sad to see the movie not live up to expectations, Bela looks magnificently mad in this one, hair teased up Einstein style. An interesting character would be that of the odd looking assistant of Mirakleís, Janos, but the character is given little to no screen time nor is there any sort of tight relationship between the characters. Itís not to say theyíre not tight, but we arenít given any history or reasoning behind it.
Although the film has its ground set in horror, itís got a few funny scenes and dabbles a bit more into comedy (first horror/comedy ever made?) than you would expect. The scenes are chuckle inducing, but thirties humor has never been my type of thing. Amusing, yes, but Iím not slapping my knees in laughter. The wonderful quotes I have come to expect with horror films of this era are not present here and there is no real atmosphere or tension in the film. Although most acting is good and the characters are slightly above average, itís still hard to get into a film of this nature. The exception is Bela, who made the best of what he had to work with, but itís unclear whether heís truly a doctor or just some raving lunatic (Iíd suggest the latter). The evolution standpoint may have been a really big statement back in 1815 (and 1932), but now it just feels really dated. There are no big plot twists and no real explanation of what goes on at the end. Overall, itís pretty dull. Itís tough to believe that Poe and Lugosi could go wrong, but the subject matter just wasnít handled right in this picture. Lugosi comes through and is the only real reason to see the film, other than some unique cinematography for the time.
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 than other, you even see a rather haggard corpse (no gore or anything, but she looks like there was a struggle) and a stabbing scene that shows a knife being thrust, but there is no insertion of course. The DVD (itís packaged with four other movies, including the two great Poe/Karloff/Lugosi films referenced above) looks decent. It looks a bit grainy and the soundtrack is fine, you can understand the dialogue and thereís no hiss and the only extra is a trailer. If youíre into 30s horror/comedies or B-gorilla movies, you may like this. As a Bela Lugosi fan, I was barely amused just enough, and itís such a shame that his character wasnít presented better, the look was truly magnificent and macabre. I was left wanting more, and in the end, it just got too hairy for this cat. Rent it!
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