PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE
The original Edgar Allan Poe story The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) concerns the murder of a woman in a locked room, which is discovered to have been caused by an escaped razor-wielding orang-utan that had been the pet of a sailor. There is no intent of murder upon the sailors part in the original story, although the sailor we have here is swarthy and of sullen disposition and is shown killing a former acquaintance in one scene. Several other elements from the Poe story have been incorporated into the film the witnesses who all think they hear the murderer talking in a different language, the victims body found stuffed up a fireplace in a locked room. We also get an appearance from Auguste Dupin, Poes investigator who is credited with being the first private detective in fiction while this Dupin does do some investigating, the character is now substantially rewritten as a psychologist who ends up being falsely arrested as the killer through an improbably contrived series of events.
Needless to say, the film elaborates considerably on the story, adding more murders and Karl Malden as a mad Pavlovian zookeeper behind it all. This version is certainly closer to the story than the 1932 film. It does pay homage to the 1932 film, including recreating the stylised rooftop sets that the ape escapes across, one of the distinctive elements of that film, and somewhat follows the 1932 films plot of a mad zookeeper who sets his eyes on the heros fianc. On the other hand, this version is sadly bereft of the gleeful stew of mad scientists and demented hypnotists that pop up there and in other versions of the story. Karl Maldens customary pug-nosed overacting is laughably out of place in the role of the mad zookeeper.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue proves to be rather dull. Director Roy Del Ruth shoves numerous pop-up 3D effects out into the audiences face with crude abandon women screaming into the camera, a knife thrower throwing knives, a snarling ape, a dead body, a trampolinist and even one of the Flying Zacchinis trapeze artists. Charles Gemora, the makeup artist who became famous for playing apes during this era (and indeed also played the ape in the 1932 film) lurks about in a gorilla suit. Characteristic of almost any B movie featuring an ape, the climax involves the gorilla abducting the heroine, before it is shot down.
Director Roy Del Ruth was a prolific director of crime dramas and musicals since the silent era. His other genre films include the light fantasy ghost comedy Topper Returns (1941) and the mad scientist cheapie The Alligator People (1959). The film also holds a subsequent fascination due to its featuring later-to-be talkshow host and gameshow producing legend Merv Griffin as a medical student who is briefly suspected of the killings.
Other versions of The Murders in the Rue Morgue: Other versions of the Edgar Allan Poe story are: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) with Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist conducting evolutionary experiments by injecting abducted women with gorilla blood, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) with Jason Robards and Herbert Lom concerning a series of murders taking place around a turn of the century play adaptation of the story, and the tv movie Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986) with George C. Scott as Dupin, which is the most accurate film adaptation of the story to date.