Monday, October 11, 2021

HALLOWE'EN ON REMAKE AVENUE: Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932 and Phantom of the Rue Morgue, 1954

 

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) changed the literary landscape and the reading habits of generations forever with his creation of the logically-minded amateur detective Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841, The Mystery of Marie Roget, 1842, and The Purloined Letter, 1844.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue present us with a dispassionate investigator, his companion/narrator, and an improbable murder in a story that echoes through the years.

Poe's stories, particularly Dupin's debut in The Murders in the Rue Morgue have been filmed multiple times dating back to 1908. Our trip to Remake Avenue looks at Universal's 1932 film and Warner Brother's 3D entry Phantom of the Rue Morgue in 1954.




Pierre Dupin played by Leon Waycoff (later Ames) is a medical student in Paris in 1845. He is an obsessive fellow whose romantic inclination is focused on pretty Camille L'Espanaye (Sidney Fox). Pierre's scientific focus is currently narrowed in on the mysterious and gruesome murders of two women in the Rue Morgue. Our earnest hero and too-sweet heroine are about to find their romance in a tangled and dangerous situation.

Leon Ames, Sidney Fox, Bert Roach

The carnival is in town and Pierre and his roommate Paul (Bert Roach) escort their ladies, Camille and Mignette (Edna Marion), for an evening's entertainment. Among the sideshow offerings is Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) and Erik. Erik is a gorilla to whom Mirakle purports to speak. Mirakle makes grand claims about evolution which incite the religious element among the crowd. Mirakle declares that he is not just another sideshow barker, but a scientist whose true legacy will be in his work of combining Erik's blood with that of humans. Shades of Island of Lost Souls!

Arlene Francis, Bela Lugosi

Dr. Mirakle and Erik are both intrigued by the pretty Camille. Mirakle senses she will be the woman for whom he is searching in order to achieve success in his grand experiment. The blood of a Woman of the Street (Arlene Francis) proved to be "rotten." Pierre, a frequent visitor to the morgue will find one more murder victim to add to the mystery which occupies his mind.

Lugosi's creepy make-up courtesy of Jack Pierce and the actor's performance leave no doubt that his all-consuming fervor for his theories and experiments has taken him to madness.

The authorities are blind to the coincidences Pierre discovers and slow to listen to his well-thought-out theories on the crimes. Action must be taken quickly to save Camille and quick action is sorely lacking from the gendarme. 


Robert Florey, who was connected with the project in an on-again, off-again capacity adapted the story and directed Murders in the Rue Morgue. The screenplay by Tom Reed and Dale Van Every leaves us with Poe's setting and murderer while giving us a different human villain and a lead role for Bela Lugosi. The film benefits greatly from the moody and atmospheric cinematography by Karl Freund (The Seventh Cross).

Despite an original run time of 80 minutes, the film offered to us runs just over an hour. Those 61 minutes are filled with shadows and fog, and ghastly scenes of death and horror. One can only imagine what the censors forced the studio to leave behind. 



Roy Del Ruth (Employees' Entrance) directed the 1954 3D/Technicolor version of Poe's story from the screenplay by Harold Medford (The Damned Don't Cry) and James. R. Webb (Cape Fear).

Merv Griffin, Steve Forrest, Patricia Medina

Professor Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest) is intelligent enough to solve the murders that occur in the Rue Morgue and Police Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin) is clever enough to go to the experts in the medical field to assist in discovering the culprit. However, the police narrow their culprit to that same Paul Dupin. Quelle dommage!

Karl Malden, Patricia Medina

Following the template of the 1932 Florey adaption, the motive behind the murders is given a uniquely personal twist on Poe's story. Professor Dupin's sweetheart Jeanette (Patricia Medina) is the object of obsession of the mad head of the institute, Dr. Marais (Karl Malden). Jeanette's resemblance to Dr. Marais' late wife is only part of that obsession.

The world at large sees Dr. Marais as a successful professional. Malden's mad man appears only "eccentric" while dealing with the public. It is among the creatures at his personal zoo, his association with Jacques the One-eyed (Anthony Caruso), and the trained gorilla that his madness is revealed.


Enlivening the proceedings is extended use of characters from the circus including knife throwers and acrobats which widens our plot, investigation, and suspect pool. The ghastly murders are shot imaginatively and make fine use of garish Technicolor. The solution and the race to save our damsel-in-distress is nothing less than what is expected, but also nothing more.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue provides its own brand of enjoyment as a Hallowe'en feature involving Poe's unique villain and the mad doctor that producers seemed to think audiences required to swallow the story.


Of note:

Charles Gemora (1903-1961)

Charles Gemora aka "King of the Gorilla Men" due to the number of gorillas and apes he created and portrayed on-screen vs. the number of aliens, played the gorilla in Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932, and the gorilla in close-ups for Phantom of the Rue Morgue, 1954.










18 comments:

  1. I had a book of Poe short stories once. Don’t know what happened to it, but I remember enjoying it. Probably read RUE MORGUE but that would’ve been quite awhile ago. I’m sure Lugosi would’ve made a perfect fit for a Poe story.

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    1. Lugosi and horror seem made for each other. I'm certain he could give us so much more but he certainly threw himself into those roles with one hundred percent.

      Same thing here, I started looking for my Poe collection but it must have been lost in one of the moves. Sigh.

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  2. Some of the movies that I saw KARL MALDEN in are the three that he was in with CARROLL BAKER. In BABY DOLL she played his young wife. In HOW THE WEST WAS WON she played his daughter! They were also in CHEYENNE AUTUMN where she played a Quaker and he was a military man. CLASSIC TV FAN

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    1. One of my favourite Malden performances is as the minister in Disney's Pollyanna. I was also a big fan of The Streets of San Francisco.

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  3. I want to mention a typo in your article. It has 1949 as the year that EDGAR ALLAN POE died. It was 1849. CLASSIC TV FAN

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  4. Phantom of the Morgue is the more entertaining of the two movies. After all, how often can you watch Karl Malden and Merx Griffin in the same movie? I also believe that it may have been shown in 3D on TV in the 1990s with 3D glasses made available at sponsoring stores. I know The Creature from the Black Lagoon was broadcast in that manner.

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    1. The glasses are certainly a bonus. I get a kick out of watching 3D without the glasses and sometimes will even flinch in honour to the work.

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  5. I think the 1932 version of the Poe story is the superior film (certainly in technique, lighting, and an overall sense of dread - the scene of Lugosi torturing Arlene Francis is hard to forget), but the remake has the advantage of garish Technicolor. It was also shot in 3-D, a print I once had the pleasure of seeing -- nothing like a gorilla snout comin' at ya from the screen. As an aside, Charles Gemora was also responsible for the Martian that creeps up on Ann Robinson in the 1953 version of War of the Worlds -- he seems to have had a busied and varied career!

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    1. I've never been known to pass up either version much to the eye-rolling of my husband.

      I re-watched War of the Worlds recently and didn't realize the Martian in that scene was Mr. Gemora. Well, I'm just going to have to watch it again.

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  6. We've mentioned before that STEVE FORREST guest-starred five times on MURDER, SHE WROTE. I saw him in three of them. My two favorites of his are the televangelist one and the one with MICHAEL LEARNED and DON GALLOWAY. Steve played SHERIFF HANK MASTERS. The other one I saw was the one with MARIETTE HARTLEY. Steve was a good actor and very attractive. Do you have a favorite M.S.W. ep that he did? What about a favorite GUNSMOKE ep? CLASSIC TV FAN

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    1. I haven't settled on a favourite Murder, She Wrote guest-starring Steve Forrest but I think Angela must have liked working with the talented, attractive actor.

      When it comes to Gunsmoke his villain "Mannon" is unforgettable. The episode gives me chills.

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  7. A couple of good picks for Halloween! Murders from 1932 is an enjoyable pre-Code oddity, with some scenes that, even in the truncated version, seem extremely bold for the period. As you note, the cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric. And I love Mirakle's looney speech at the carnival. I've only seen Phantom once, but it was memorable for its lushness (is that a word?) and the cast, especially Karl Malden in a rare horror role. I'd love to see it in all its 3D glory!

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    1. It would be fun to see "Phantom" in 3D. I think your description of "lush" suits the movie. One of my sisters says it has a Hammer vibe. Can't argue with that.

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  8. What spooky fun, Paddy! Karl Marlden is always fabulous as is Bela Lugosi. I look forward to "meeting" their characters in the Rue Morgue.

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    1. You'll have a fine time. They're just a couple of crazy kids!

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  9. KARL MALDEN was friends with RICHARD WIDMARK. They were both devoted family men. Karl was married to his wife MONA for 70 years! Karl was on the A&E BIOGRAPHY of RICHARD WIDMARK that aired in 2000. He told that Widmark would be sitting having a glass of milk in an establishment and someone would try to knock him off his chair! It was because of his performance as the bad guy in KISS OF DEATH! The guy would say "You think you're a tough guy, huh? You knocked an old lady down the stairs." CLASSIC TV FAN

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    1. Now, if some of those "fans" had seen Widmark in something like Down to the Sea in Ships, they'd have an entirely different attitude.

      I always enjoy watching Karl Malden and it is always nice to hear of the real friendships in the entertainment world.

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