5 May 2001 | lugonian
Beauty and the Beast
THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (Universal, 1932), directed by Robert Florey, and suggested on the story by Edgar Allan Poe, became Universal's third installment in its horror cycle (following two 1931 releases of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." Top-billing goes to Sidney Fox, a short, dark-haired beauty with innocent charm, but the scene stealing goes to Bela Lugosi in a very creepy and scary performance.
Set in 1845 Paris, Pierre Dupin (Leon Waycoff), a young medical student, with his fiancée, Camille L'Espanaye (Sidney Fox), attend a carnival where they enter a tent to watch a side show featuring Doctor Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) with his pet ape, Erik. Mirakle demonstrates his friendship with his ape by speaking his language, etc., and tells his mesmerizing audience that the ape's blood can be mixed with that of the blood of man. While many in view feel him to be insane, Pierre does not. Mirakle later makes an acquaintance with Camille, and noticing that Erik is particularly interested in her, Mirakle finds she may possibly be the perfect choice as the bride for his gorilla. As the story progresses, bodies of street girls are found in the river and taken by authorities to the Rue Morgue where Pierre decides to study these unfortunate victims of drowning, only to soon learn the motive for these recent deaths, and hoping to put a stop to it before any more murders occur.
Combining horror and mystery, THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, running only 60 minutes in length, reportedly did not become a box office success, maybe because of some scenes that were possibly too intense for 1932 audiences, but in spite of some intrusive "comedy relief," this atmospheric movie does have its bonuses, especially that of Lugosi, sporting curly hair, bushy eyebrows, glassy eyes and red lips that make him every bit as creepy as he did playing Dracula a year ago. The scene where he leisurely approaches a prostitute (Arlene Francis) in the heavy fog of night after her "lovers" have a knife fight to the death, speaks to her in saying slowly, "A lady ... in distress .... Come ... with me." The way he says this is pure Lugosi not only scaring his proposed victim, but his viewers as well. What occurs after he takes her with him to his place is not for the squeamish. D'Arcy Corrigan also adds some nice touches of horror in the story as the morgue keeper. He is not the villain, but his appearance in itself is stereotype undertaking at best. He looks more like the walking dead himself. The funny thing here is that he tells Pierre that he has a wife and children. One can imagine what they look like, but we'll never know.
If the voice of Leon Waycoff sounds familiar and not his name, Waycoff later changed his surname from Waycoff to Ames. Leon Ames is famous for his role as Judy Garland's father in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (MGM, 1944), and playing fathers in many other film and TV roles. Also in the cast are Bert Roach as Paul; Brandon Hurst as the Prefect of Police; Betsy Ross Clark as Camille's mother; and Noble Johnson as Mirakle's assistant, Janos, who says nothing but whose facial gestures also add to the creepiness.
Pierre Dupin, the medical student turned sleuth, would turn up again in another Universal film, THE MYSTERYOF MARIE ROGET (1942) with Patric Knowles as Dupin, Nell O'Day as Camille and Marie Montez as the title character. As for THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, it was formerly shown on both the Sci-Fi Channel and American Movie Classics cable channels prior to 2001, and later Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 18, 2006). Formerly on video cassette and later on DVD, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, is satisfactory nightmarish entertainment, especially for any avid Bela Lugosi fan. (***)