Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Bela Lugosi stars in this poorly written Universal Horror film, based on a work by Edgar Allan Poe. Universal R1 Lugosi boxset.

The Film

"Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling blocks in the way
 of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of
the theory of probabilities- that theory to which the most glorious objects
of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration." 
                                                                                        Edgar Allan Poe - Murders in the Rue Morgue

Paris 1845. A young couple, Camille L'Espanaye and Pierre Dupin, are touring a carnival. They witness a presentation by an evolutionist known as Doctor Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) who has with him a giant ape known as Erik, after the show we see that Erik has become attracted to Camille, and he steals her bonnet. After tracking down Camille, Dr. Mirakle picks up a street-walker and takes her back to his laboratory in an abandoned town house - here he performs an experiment on her that leaves the woman dead. Disparing, he dumps the body into the river. At the morgue, Pierre, a medical student, examines the body and links it to three similar cases in the past week. He sets out to track down the killer, little realising that his girlfriend is at risk from the madman too...


After their major sucesses with adaptations of Stoker and Shelley (Dracula and Frankenstein (1931)), it was inevitable that Universal would try for another literary sourced horror picture. The history of Murders in the Rue Morgue is a mixed one: originally to have been directed by George Melford, he was replaced by Robert Florey who had been knocked out of the Frankenstein (1931) director's chair by James Whale. Star Bela Lugosi similarly came to this picture after either turning down or been turned down for (depending on which source you read) the mute Frankenstein monster role in the same picture. After the highly stagey Dracula (1931), and the partly staged Frankenstein (1931), Murders in the Rue Morgue tried to go whole hog into cinema territory with elaborate visuals and a German Expressionist theme.

Poe's original story is an impressively thought-out detective yarn - setting-up first an impossible crime, and then solving it without cheating, it inspired every character from Sherlock Holmes to Jonathan Creek. Poe's story is written in the correspondence style popular at the time, so it is understandable that a filmable plot had to be added around the mystery, however Florey's script for this film takes out all the detective elements that made the story so fascinating, and replaces yarn with yawn. For a film set in Paris none of the characters feel French, and the film contains the occasional French word as if to desperately remind you of the setting. Pacing is very slow, with almost nothing going on for most of the run-time, although characterisation is still poor. The comic relief that plagues many of the Universal Horror films is in full force here and destroys what little atmosphere the film has, while any suspence is lost by showing us early on the solution that Dupin spends the entire story solving in Poe's original work. The ending is a complete waste of time and highly predictable.

It is only the impressive visuals that make the film at all watchable. Florey worked with Dracula (1931) cinematographer Karl Freund to bring a German Expressionist feel to the film with the distinctive sets that you see throughout the picture. Mirakle's laboratory, built in the Frankenstein watchtower set, looks very impressive, and the prostitue hanging from a cross is a powerful symbol (religion being replaced with science). As if to compound the script problems, the sequence where Mirakle picks up the street-walker, that should have provided an enigmatic opening to the film is crudely spliced into the middle, and makes no sense. To its further detriment, the film lacks a music score, a hangover from Silent Movie days, and so most of the scenes are played out in silence which does nothing to create tension or drama.


Murders in the Rue Morgue boasts a nice expressionist feel to the sets, but the storyline doesn't fit them at all and it looks like two movies got poorly stuck together. Lugosi gives a typical early, scenery chewing performance, but cannot distract from the terrible storyline. Ultimately the film is a failed experiment in bringing silent movie visuals to a talkie but that might have worked had it not included a script that managed to remove all the mystery and atmosphere of the original story, to be replaced with silly comedy and slow pacing. One only for Universal Horror completists and die-hard Lugosi fans.


In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Bela Lugosi - the most famous Hungarian export, best known for his leading role in Dracula (1931)
Directed by anyone interesting? Robert Florey - a French director, responsible for the silent oddity: The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (1928) and Marx brother's comedy The Cocoanuts (1929).
Any gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Only for Universal Horror completists and die-hard Lugosi fans, and even they won't enjoy it much.
Good soundtrack? Only opening and closing title music, the rest is silent.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
The print quality is decent, few speckles and some flickering and grain. 
Audio English language original mono sound. Very strong and clear.
Subtitles English HOH, French and Spanish.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 00m 34s
Extras Bonus features:
  • Original trailer - 1m 35s - low quality, but containing some footage not used in the final film.
AvailabilityOnly avaliable in The Bela Lugosi Collection boxset.
Region Region 1 (USA) - NTSC
Other regions? None.
Cuts? None known.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th May 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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