Rue Morgue goes Ape

Robert Florey's 1932 movie Murders in the Rue Morgue is a quite curious movie. The Poe connection is, to put it bluntly, tenuous - not to say sporadic. There is a Dupin in the movie, there is an ape, there are killings. However, Dupin isn't Poe's Chevalier Auguste Dupin but a medical student Pierre Dupin. The murders aren't really murders at all, not actually, but the unfortunate result of ill-guided medical experiments. The ape isn't an orangutang but a gorilla. And the gorilla, brilliantly, is "played" by a chimpanzee. And sometimes a bloke in a skin. Obviously.

Paris, 1845. Dr Mirakle, played by Bela Lugosi with menacing simian eye-brows, displays his gorilla at a side-show. Really his ambition is to prove that man and ape are close relatives, that there's such a thing as evolution. This he tries to do by abducting young and particularly pretty women and mixing their blood with simian blood. Unfortunately his experiments tend to go awry and the young ladies loose their lives. He gets rid of their corpses in the Seine. Dupin has noticed that there's something fishy about the young women that turn up dead in the river. He wants specimens of their blood. At the same time Dr Mirakle has his eye on Dupin's beloved.

Dupin and his beloved Camille have been to the side-show and seen Mirakle's gorilla. The gorilla even snatched Camille's bonnet, so Mirakle had to send her a new one.

Dupin seeks up Mirakle an questions him. Mirakle doesn't want to talk about his experiments and claims he's just off to Munich. Dupin finds out that this isn't true and follows Mirakle to his lair on, wait for it - the Rue Morgue. He hears Mirakle converse with his gorilla (this time played by an actor in a gorilla skin, not terribly convincingly). Later that evening, when Dupin's at Camille's, Mirakle stands down in the street stalking them. When Dupin's gone Mirakle knocks her up and tries to lure her out but she refuses. Mirakle returns to his carriage where the gorilla awaits him. The gorilla isn't pleased. It seems like the gorilla gives him his orders!

Simultaneously Dupin has an astonishing breakthrough - it's the blood of a gorilla! The girls died because a gorilla's blood was injected in their veins! (Which seems like a slightly unlikely discovery in 1845. Or do I mean utterly impossible?) At the same moment he realises Camille is in danger! (Which also seem a bit unlikely - what on earth is the connection, one wonders?) So he rushes off.

Meanwhile Mirakle stands on the street and watches how his gorilla scales the wall of Camille's house. (Which seems highly illogical as all the previous victims have been procured by Mirakle for scientific experiments, but apparently - this time it's personal.) Like a miniature King Kong the gorilla heaves himself up on Camille's balcony and enters her bed chamber. Camille sees the gorilla (now again it's a chimp), screams her head off and faints. Camille's mother rushes to the room. But, oh no, the gorilla is still there. Not to worry, Dupin's on his way.

But it's too late. When he breaks down the door the gorilla has already made off with Camille. Oh the anguish! Oh the agony! Why will no one believe that this is serious? our hero moans to the thick gendarmes. Does nobody understand that she's in danger?

Now we come to bastardized Poe country, something actually from the original story, with witnesses being questioned about what language the abductor spoke. Was it Italian? Yes, says one witness, a German, absolutely Italian. Or was it Danish? Yes, says another witness, an Italian, definitely Danish. No, says a third witness, a Dane, it was in fact German!

At last our hero is brought out to be heard by the prefect. He's in chains, an obvious suspect. He knows who committed the murder: an ape! What murder, the prefect says. Dupin explains that there were two women in the room and the door was locked and bolted. Therefore, Dupin explains, one woman was carried away and the other murdered (which seems like an utterly unreasonable deduction on the face of it). What ho - the room is searched and Camille's mother found stuck up the chimney.

Still nobody believes Dupin. An ape? No. He must be crazy. Before the gendarmes drag him away he discovers the hair the old woman has clutched in her fist - not human hair but ape hair! Look! Therefore he must be telling the truth. The prefect nods his head in perfect agreement. Yes, it must be an ape.

Back in Mirakle's secret lair the doctor makes a happy discovery: her blood is perfect for his experiment! The chimp, behind bars again, goes ape with joy and extasy. But Dupin has already led the gendarmes there. No! Dr. Mirakle shouts to his simian assistant - hold them off till I'm ready!

The gorilla breaks out of his cage. Back in to your cage! Mirakle orders. The gorilla attacks Mirakle, apparently in an attempt to protect Camille. The gendarmes break in. The gorilla picks up Camille and carries her off, again, now to the roof. Somebody spots them and the gendarmes and the rabble start following them. Lots of shots of the gorilla transporting Camille King Kong like over roofs.

There really is no escape for the ape. Or is there? Our hero Dupin grabs a pistol off a gendarme. The gorilla is in a cul-de-sac. Dupin climbs up on the roof. The gorilla drops Camille and goes for Dupin. Dupin fires and the gorilla is hit and rolls off the roof into the Seine. Hooray - the day is saved by our brave and resourceful Dupin!

What can one say? Want rubbish dialogue, childish plotting, hammy acting, sloppy sets? This is your movie. The ape that falls in love with the beautiful woman and abducts her. How very original. But if they wanted to rip off King Kong why did they have to soil Poe? Then something starts nagging me, a little odd feeling somewhere at the back of my skull. So I check my facts. This movie was in fact made before King Kong! Amazing. So is it King Kong that rips off Murders in the Rue Morgue? Now there's a thought.

An interesting little fact: Florey and Lugosi were originally slated to do Frankenstein, Florey to direct and Lugosi to play the scientist Henry Frankenstein. As the directing job went to James Whale and the role to Colin Clive, Florey and Lugosi were given this picture instead. Frankenstein was a hug hit and became a classic, this one wasn't and didn't. Another interesting little fact: additional dialogue was supplied by none other than John Huston. Yet another interesting little fact: the cinematographer Karl Freund had previously shot such classics as Der Golem and Metropolis. And he would soon direct The Mummy with Boris Karloff. Maybe it's due to him that certain portions of Murders in the Rue Morgue remind one a bit of Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari. But, honestly, I don't understand the claims that the film actully seems like a piece of German expressionism. It doesn't. It truly doesn't.

Worth noting too, perhaps, that Florey directed the first Marx Brothers film Cocoanuts and wrote the screenplay to the 1933 Sherlock Holmes movie A Study in Scarlet with Reginald Owen as Holmes.

Any which way one looks at it, Murders in the Rue Morgue is definitely worth a look. But not much more. There's nowhere near the emotional impact of King Kong or the intellectual impact of Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This movie is sheer exploitation, not even clever exploitation, but still somewhat amusing.


SusuPetal said...

Meriittilistasi häikäisi valkeudellaan, joten tervetuloa KKS:n jäseneksi. Olen liittänyt sinut armoitettuun jäsenluetteloon.

PS said...

Paljon kiitoksia! Nyt minulla on ikioma kirjallinen meriitti! Mutta hitto vie - sehän pilaa meriittilistani kauniin ja puhtaan valkoisuuden . . .