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MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932)

My life is consecrated to a great experiment. I tell you, I will prove your kinship with the ape! Erik’s blood shall be mixed with the blood of man!





  Director:
 
Robert Florey

  Starring: 
Bela Lugosi, Leon Waycoff (Leon Ames), Sidney Fox, Bert Roach, D’Arcy Corrigan, Arlene Francis, Betsy Ross Clarke, Edna Marion, Brandon Hurst, John T. Murray, Charles Gemora, Noble Johnson

  Screenplay: 
Tom Reed, Dale Van Every, John Huston, Robert Florey and Ethel M. Kelly (uncredited), based upon the story by Edgar Allan Poe

Synopsis:  Paris, 1845. Medical student Pierre Dupin (Leon Ames) is torn away from his studies by his fiancée, Camille L’Espanaye (Sidney Fox), his roommate, Paul (Bert Roach), and Paul’s sweetheart, Mignette (Edna Marion). The friends attend the carnival, where their attention is attracted by exhibit of Dr Mirakle (Bela Lugosi), which features Erik the ape-man. Inside the tent, Camille attracts the attention of Dr Mirakle himself, who encourages her to take a seat down the front, where she can see everything. Once the audience has settled, Mirakle has his assistant, Janos (Noble Johnson), draw back the curtain of Erik’s cage, revealing a huge gorilla and provoking gasps and shrieks from those looking on. Mirakle claims that he has learned to communicate with Erik in his own language. He goes on to lecture the audience about the close relationship between men and apes. Many of those present take offence, and one man accuses Mirakle of heresy, provoking him to describe his carnival attraction as no more than a trap to catch, “The pennies of fools.” Mirakle adds that his life is consecrated to a great experiment: to proving the kinship between Erik and his human brothers. The outraged audience begins to file out, until only Paul and his friends remain. Unperturbed, Mirakle invites them to take a closer look at Erik. They do so warily, and immediately Erik begins gesturing towards Camille. She hesitantly offers the ape her bonnet, for which it seems to be reaching; but when Pierre tries to get it back Erik attacks him, and must be driven back by Mirakle, who abuses Pierre for his recklessness. Recovering his urbanity, Mirakle then apologises to Camille for the destruction of her bonnet, and asks her name and address, so that he might send her a new one. Pierre, however, intervenes, and prevents Camille from answering. As the friends leave, Mirakle sends Janos to follow them....  On the streets of Paris, a young woman (Arlene Francis) cries out in horror as two men fight with knives nearby. Mirakle pulls up in his carriage, offering to escort her from the violent scene. She is frightened, but unable to resist.... In Mirakle’s secret laboratory, the young woman struggles against her bonds, screaming in pain and terror as Mirakle cuts a sample from her arm. He examines it under a microscope, then erupts with anger and disappointment, accusing the girl’s “rotten blood” of being the cause of the failure of his experiment. But even as he berates the girl, she dies. Mirakle opens a trapdoor beneath her feet, plunging her into the waters below.... Pierre visits the morgue, intending to examine the bodies of two young women pulled from the Seine over the past week, only to learn that a third has just been recovered. Pierre finds the same mark upon her arm that he noticed upon the other bodies, and later determines that she has the same strange foreign substance in her blood....

Comments:  When one considers the history of the early Universal horror movies, it is hard not to come away feeling rather sorry for Robert Florey. Florey had responded with enthusiasm to the challenge of developing Frankenstein for the screen, and many of his ideas with respect to the look of the film, in particular, as well as some of his contributions to the story, are still present in the finished product. (It was also Florey who directed the legendary screen test of Bela Lugosi as the Creature, reportedly in makeup based upon Paul Wegener’s design of the Golem.) However, the arrival on the set of Universal’s new golden-haired boy, James Whale, was the cue for Florey’s involuntary departure. As a consolation prize, Florey was assigned as writer-director for the next intended Universal horror, an adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story, Murders In The Rue Morgue; but it was not long before this “consolation” was looking more like a form of punishment.

 

As Murders In The Rue Morgue entered pre-production in September of 1931, Carl Laemmle had an attack of cold feet. Frankenstein was not due for release until the end of November, and all of a sudden Laemmle became convinced that the success of Dracula earlier in the year had been a flash in the pan, and that more horror movies were a very bad idea. His first move was to slash the budget of Murders In The Rue Morgue by a third; his second was to demand that the screenplay be entirely re-written to bring the story into contemporary times. This was the final straw for Robert Florey, who quit on the spot, not returning to the project until Carl Laemmle agreed to keep the production’s nineteenth century setting. This was not the end of interference from the head office, however. During the pre-production of Frankenstein, Robert Florey had wanted Bette Davis for the role eventually played by Mae Clark, only for Uncle Carl to veto her casting. History repeated itself on the set of Murders In The Rue Morgue, with Florey offering the part of Camille to Davis, and Laemmle insisting upon Sidney Fox. Uncle Carl was quite unable to understand Florey’s interest in the young Davis, flatly declaring her to be, “Lacking in any real screen presence”.

Yes. Well.

(Florey and Davis finally got to work together at Warners, on the seminal pre-Code gender-role drama, Ex-Lady.)

Even then, Robert Florey’s problems were far from over. With shooting due to start, Florey found himself profoundly dissatisfied with the screenplay turned in by Tom Reed and Dale Van Every – which had already undergone one overhaul by John Huston. The script was full of fulsome faux-Poe speeches that Florey found ridiculous. Florey and his collaborator, Ethel M. Kelly, began the task of re-writes, with the screenplay continuing to undergo revision all throughout the filming process.

All these factors considered, it is perhaps not surprising that upon viewing a rough cut of the film, producer Carl Laemmle Jr was dissatisfied with what he saw. His reaction was to demand that the film be re-edited. In particular, he insisted upon a re-ordering of the scenes that comprised the film’s first third. Florey bowed his head under these edicts and completed the work, albeit reluctantly – only for fate to intervene once more. On the 21st November, Frankenstein opened to enormous box office success. His doubts swept away, Carl Laemmle did an about-face and began throwing money at the project he had previously tried to sweep under the carpet, demanding a series of re-shoots. These included some shots of a real ape intended to supplement the footage of professional “gorilla-suit man”, Charles Gemora, who was playing Erik. Unfortunately, the only ape available for filming was a chimpanzee, and a female one at that. However, Florey again did as he was told. The final version of Murders In The Rue Morgue premiered in February of 1932. It was a failure with audiences and critics alike, the latter of whom went out of their way to ridicule the mismatched footage that made up the characterisation of “Erik the ape-man”.

Murders In The Rue Morgue is often called the first detective story. Like many “firsts”, it really isn’t – there are works by both Voltaire and Hoffmann that have as good or better claim to the title – but it was, perhaps, the first such story to be widely read and discussed, as well as being the work that established Poe’s reputation in Europe. The story is an example of a “locked room mystery”, a sub-genre to which Poe would return in later writings. Two women, a mother and daughter, are brutally murdered in a room from which, it seems, the killer could not have escaped. The daughter is found strangled, her body wedged in the chimney; the mother has had her throat cut, and with such hideous force that when the body is moved, her head falls off. C. Auguste Dupin, a young man of just enough independent means to turn sitting around and thinking into his profession, takes an interest in the case, and uses it to demonstrate his analytical powers. The vital clue comes in the form of the two voices heard at the scene of the crime. While one is definitely speaking French, the language of the other cannot be identified in spite of the conveniently multi-national nature of those overhearing. From this Dupin deduces that the second language was no language at all; that the killer was not human. Upon inspecting the bodies, Dupin finds a tuft of animal fur in the daughter’s fingers. The culprit is subsequently revealed to be an orang-utan, which had escaped from its sailor-owner, and the “murders” therefore not murders at all. (Incredibly, at least in this reader’s opinion, the sailor is also exonerated, despite provoking the ape’s rampage by, as it is so delicately phrased, trying to quiet it with a whip.)

It does not seem that there was ever any intention on the part of Universal to try and make an accurate adaptation of Poe’s story, not least because as written it contains no appropriate role for Bela Lugosi. One supposes that he could have played an overhauled Auguste Dupin....but it fairly obvious that after Dracula, Lugosi was being considered by Universal for villainous roles only, as indeed would remain the case for most of his career. As it stands, the only resemblance between Murders In The Rue Morgue and its source is the retention of the locked room – although in this case, it is Madame L’Espanaye who is found stuffed up the chimney, while Camille is carried off by Erik – and the post-crisis scene in which people of various nationalities try and fail to identify the voice they heard behind those closed doors. Of course, in this case there is no mystery for the audience to solve, while the desperate Pierre Dupin is left with the unenviable task of trying to convince the gendarmes of what he already knows: that the missing Camille has been abducted by an ape.

Murders In The Rue Morgue is a film best characterised as lacking the courage of its convictions. It feels as if it wants to be a courageous, transgressive drama, like Paramount’s Island Of Lost Souls, but in the end it rests content to leave the viewer not merely to join the dots, but to fill in any number of yawning gaps in its narrative. There is much talk in this film about the theory of evolution, and the possible relationship between man and ape, but it is only the frankly insane Dr Mirakle - pronounced “Meer-ahh-kul”, by the way - who dares espouse it. The voicing of his beliefs in public provokes muttering and gasps, a cry of, “Heresy!”, and a general walkout. (This is, of course, supposedly fourteen years before the publication of “On The Origin Of Species”.) As for medical student Pierre Dupin, he has no more to say about Mirakle’s claims than, “Suppose he’s right?”, which is enough to cause his fellow student and roommate, Paul, to go off in a huff.

The bigger question, however, is what Mirakle is trying to prove, and how he is going about proving it. In a confusing sequence of events, it is following Mirakle’s – and Erik’s – encounter with Camille that Mirakle picks up a different girl while cruising the streets of Paris in his carriage. The girl is witness to, presumably the cause of, a violent knife-fight between two men, who inflict serious injuries upon each other. Mirakle here slides into the picture and offers to escort the girl - “A damsel....in distress?” - away from the scene. She resists, but her will is overborne. (Even at this early stage, I imagine that audiences were supposed to take for granted the “hypnotic” powers of any character played by Lugosi.) The next we see of the girl, she is in the cinema’s first post-Frankenstein laboratory, and being subjected to the first example of post-Frankenstein mad science. Dressed only in her slip, and bound by her wrists and ankles to a pair of cross-beams in Mirakle’s laboratory, the girl screams in pain and terror as Mirakle takes a sample of skin and blood from her arm by unpleasantly rough and ready means. Mirakle examines the sample under his microscope and then bellows in rage, sweeping some of the glassware from his workbench in a gesture of fury.

Confronting the girl, Mirakle howls at her, “Rotten blood! You! Your blood is rotten! Black as your sins! You cheated me – your beauty was a lie!”

By this stage, however, the girl is beyond caring. Already unconscious when Mirakle begins his tirade, by the time he concludes it she is dead....

Mirakle is shocked and dismayed at this outcome – by the girl’s death, it seems, as much as by the failure of his experiment. After making a gesture of despair, Mirakle signals to the faithful Janos, who is watching from the shadows. Janos severs the ropes holding the girl to the beams and releases a trapdoor, sending the pathetic figure plunging into the waters of the Seine, which conveniently run directly beneath Mirakle’s hidden laboratory. Her body is later dragged ashore and ends up on a slab in the morgue. There it attracts the attention of Pierre Dupin, thanks to the wound upon the arm, which matches those found on the bodies of two other young women pulled from the Seine earlier in the same week. Examination of the girl’s blood reveals that she, too, has been administered some strange substance, which was in all probability the cause of her death. And as Pierre continues his researches, he determines that the foreign substance is also blood – gorilla’s blood....

 

So overtly, Mirakle is abducting girls and injecting them with Erik’s blood in order to prove the kinship between man and ape. The implication, however, is something very much darker – although it takes a willingness on the part of the audience to decode the film, and perhaps also a familiarity with the various ways in which films of this era got around the censors, to make anything resembling sense out of the vaguest of clues. (The fact that, as a result of “Junior”’s editorial tampering, many of the scenes in the first half of the film are clearly in the wrong order does not help the interpretation of the material one little bit.) With Mirakle’s cries of rotten blood and black sins, a sexual reading of the situation is inescapable. It is the fact that his victim is “tainted” to which Mirakle ascribes his failure – failures – but the question remains, how could he know? And indeed, his accusation, “Your beauty was a lie!” suggests that he does not know.

Bizarrely, there is no solid in-film evidence that this girl is a prostitute; although she is helpfully billed in the credits as, Woman of the streets. What we seem to have here, in fact, is a piece of backwards reasoning: Mirakle’s previous experiment, which may have been on a confirmed prostitute, failed; this experiment, too, failed, therefore the girl was a prostitute. Either way, the transference of Mirakle’s attention to an obvious lady, like Camille – who by the same kind of logic must be a virgin – is inevitable. Furthermore, the choice of so manifestly virginal a victim adds to the situation an unavoidable sexual undertone. It is hard not to conclude that despite what we know of Mirakle’s previous experiments, he intends to prove his theories by making Camille the recipient of something other than merely Erik’s blood. Otherwise....why all the emphasis upon how much Erik likes Camille...?

It is Mirakle’s and/or Erik’s attraction to Camille that drives the rest of the action of Murders In The Rue Morgue, such as it is. No sooner has Camille entered Mirakle’s carnival tent than he closes in on her, guiding her to a seat in the front row where he and Erik can both feast their eyes. (I must say, it’s refreshing to see the good/bad girl dichotomy being played out in terms other than blonde/brunette. Mirakle’s taste for dark hair is evident in both of his recognised victims. Moreover, he lets several fair-haired girls pass him by in the tent before fixating upon Camille.) Mirakle’s first attempts to learn Camille’s name and address – in order to replace the bonnet ruined by Erik, you understand – are thwarted by Pierre, but he soon finds out by setting Janos to follow the girl home.

 

However, an attempt by Mirakle to lure Camille back to the carnival via an invitation accompanying the new bonnet bears no fruit. Pierre attends instead, finding the carnival packing up for a journey to Munich. Pierre is relieved by this evidence of Mirakle’s imminent departure, but learns accidently that the carnival is departing without him. Inspired by this to do a little spying himself, Pierre manages to catch a lift hidden on the back of Mirakle’s carriage, and by these means discovers the location of the abandoned house by the Seine in which Mirakle’s secret laboratory is hidden. It is information that will later serve him well.

The following night, after watching Pierre’s departure from the rooms that Camille shares with her mother, Mirakle tries to force an entrance, and seems genuinely shocked when Camille shuts the door in his face. But never mind. Withdrawing to his carriage, Mirakle points out a certain balcony to Erik....

In his own rooms, Pierre makes his breakthrough concerning the gorilla blood. In a flash, his thoughts leap from Erik to Mirakle, and from Mirakle to Camille. He rushes back to her rooms, to be greeted by the sound of terrified screaming. Pierre tries to force the bolt on the front door – a bolt that he insisted upon being used – but is unable to do so. The screaming attracts a crowd, including a gendarme, who helps Pierre break in the door. Inside, they find neither Camille nor her mother....

The argument over the language spoken by the women’s assailant occurs here, as the Prefect of police questions the witnesses. Finally, Pierre is able to tell his story, his contention that Madame L’Espanaye has been murdered spectacularly confirmed when her dangling arm drops down from within the chimney in which her body has been wedged. However, rather than being taken as proof that Pierre’s theory is correct, it is considered proof that he is guilty of murder – even though the gendarme saw him outside while the screams were coming from inside, and helped him to break in! (Although perhaps the gendarme is simply reluctant to contradict his superior: it is the Prefect who orders the arrest.) Pierre manages to voice an accusation against “Dr Mirakle, of the Rue Morgue!” - who he insists is, “Guilty of four murders so far this week!” - and tries to explain about Erik. This results in only an accusation of insanity, until Pierre points out the fur fragments caught in Madame L’Espanaye’s fingers. Finally, the Prefect must concede.

Meanwhile, as Camille lies unconscious, that ominous mark upon her arm, Mirakle declares her blood to be, “Perfect!” (The implication that the blood of a sexually-experienced woman is literally tainted is one of the film’s less savoury aspects; although it is possibly a reference to venereal disease.) With Mirakle’s declaration, Erik becomes very excited....

At this critical juncture, Pierre leads the gendarmes to Mirakle’s hiding-place. Mirakle orders Janos to the hold off the intruders while he finishes his work (!). He then lets Erik out of his cage, gesturing him to come closer. Erik, however, baulks at the sight of the scalpel in Mirakle’s hand – and then grows angry.  Ignoring Mirakle’s command that he return to his cage, the ape fastens his hands about his master’s throat....

As the gendarmes break in – shooting through the door, and Janos, in the process – Erik scoops up the still-insensible Camille and runs off with her across the rooftops of Paris, with Pierre in hot pursuit....

Murders In The Rue Morgue preceded King Kong by more than a year; so it is not to the film that we now think of as the classic meeting of woman and ape that this film looked for its inspiration in staging this sequence. Rather, the climactic chase scene of Murders In The Rue Morgue draws upon that of Das Kabinet Des Dr Caligari, as indeed the relationship between Mirakle and Erik echoes that of Caligari and his somnambulist/slave, Cesare, who like Erik finally rebels. (That said, I find myself compelled to observe that Charlie Gemora in a gorilla-suit is not at all an acceptable substitute for Conrad Veidt in a leotard.) Naturally, poor Erik meets a violent end – while the screenplay’s attempt to provide an ironic coda to the action would have worked a lot better if those opening scenes had not been out of order in the first place. It does, however, succeed in bestowing upon Mirakle perhaps the most contemptuously dismissive of all movie epitaphs:

“They say he was a scientist....or something.”

 

Although Murders In The Rue Morgue is usually ranked amongst the “classic” Universal horror movies, this seems more an instance of classic-by-association rather than classic-by-virtue: even more than is the case with Dracula, a fondness for this film requires an extreme willingness to make allowances, with the various production travails leaving behind them, not surprisingly, a bit of a mess. The narrative as it stands makes precious little sense, and except for Bela Lugosi the cast fails to make an impression. The “students” are all far too old, and although she is certainly pretty enough, Sidney Fox brings little else to the part of Camille. (Dare I say it? – she’s no Bette Davis.)

The other problem here, which in fairness is far from confined to Murders In The Rue Morgue, is knowing how to react to Erik. Gorilla suits were everywhere in the 1930s – and even beyond – but even those of us with a deep affection for these old films find it hard to believe that audiences of the time could really have found these patently fake simians a reasonable facsimile of the real thing. (What is really confusing, though, are those films featuring a “fake” ape and a “real” ape....which not only invariably looked exactly alike, but were generally played by the same suit and actor!) As Erik, Charles Gemora makes no attempt to be persuasively simian, walking around bolt upright and flat-footed, and simply making those ooh-ooh-ooh noises that any of us might as a crude approximation of ape-speak. (One of the odder aspects of the film is Mirakle’s insistence that he has learned Erik’s language: while Erik ooh-ooh-ooh­-s at him, Mirakle talks back in what sounds suspiciously like Hungarian. Apparently his linguistic skills desert him under pressure, though: when the enraged Erik is closing in upon him at the film’s climax, Mirakle’s demand that Erik return to his cage is, fatally, spoken in English.) However, while otherwise we might have just accepted Gemora’s portrayal of Erik, the studio insistence upon the inclusion of shots an actual chimpanzee destroyed any possibility of real suspension of disbelief. Even critics of the time, presumably better versed in the conventions of ape-suit acting than we, found this risible.

 

As with many of Bela Lugosi’s films, the viewer tends to end up enjoying Murders In The Rue Morgue not so much the performance as such, but just for Lugosi being Lugosi. (The film contains what might be an in-joke, when Pierre comments of Mirakle, “I’ve never heard an accent like it!”) This is a short film, and in the end we do not see nearly as much of Dr Mirakle as we would like. However, the final screenplay, hodge-podge though it is, at least granted Lugosi two marvellous set-pieces: the laboratory scene, and that at the carnival. The latter is certainly prime Lugosi, with Mirakle’s expression of his belief in evolution and the kinship of man and ape rapidly degenerating into a sneering attack upon his paying public. Meanwhile, Lugosi’s appearance is a treat in itself, with the film-makers seeing fit to bestow upon him an amusingly bouffant hair-do, plus a uni-brow of astonishing proportion. Incredibly, the fake brow insert sitting over the bridge of Lugosi’s nose seems made up of two separate pieces, of two different colours. It also sits rigid and unmoving throughout, with Lugosi’s real eyebrows waggling wildly on either side of it as Mirakle speaks. The effect is incredibly distracting, and more than a little ridiculous.

As for the real virtues of Murders In The Rue Morgue, they are entirely visual, and may be attributed to the combined efforts of Robert Florey, art director Charles D. Hall and cinematographer Karl Freund. In its look, the film is a throwback to German Expressionism – here, too, we feel the influence of Caligari – with its story set in a highly stylised Paris of engulfing shadows, high angles, sharp corners, and geometric design. Buildings huddle together, jostling for space, while the spires of Notre Dame rise above the end of Camille’s street. After suffering through Dracula, with its stiff and static mise-en-scène, Karl Freund was allowed to have his way here. His camera follows frantic pursuits, glides into cellars and soars above rooftops, losing itself in a world of chiaroscuro. It is also used in a variant of a technique pioneered by Freund in Germany, during the filming of Variety in 1926, when he attached a camera to a trapeze in order to film a dizzying point-of-view shot. Here, in the process of capturing the visual contrast of a picnic on a sunny day, Freund designed a rig that could be attached to the swing on which Sidney Fox was being pushed by Leon Ames, so that the camera, too, could fly through the air. While the studio executives were not happy with Murders In The Rue Morgue as a whole, they were with Karl Freund’s efforts, which saw him promoted into the director’s chair for one of the next Universal horrors, The Mummy. The unfortunate Robert Florey, meanwhile, was shown the door.

 

 

Deeply flawed as this film is, there is one truly memorable passage in Murders In The Rue Morgue: the laboratory sequence. Critics and audiences alike were deeply disturbed by the frank sadism inherent in Mirakle’s treatment of the unfortunate Woman of the streets, in which the scientist takes a scalpel to the arm of the fully conscious girl, impatiently hushing her anguished shrieks and pleadings as he examines the resultant tissue under the microscope, then abusing her violently as she hangs dying before him. It is not difficult to imagine that a large part of the visceral response to this scene was due to the enthusiastic screaming of the young Arlene Francis. Murders In The Rue Morgue represented something of a false start to Francis’s career: she would make only three more films over the next eighteen years, before finding her niche on television. Had things worked out otherwise, on the evidence of this film Fay Wray might have found herself with some serious competition for the title of “Scream Queen”.

But it is the visual staging of this scene in which its power truly lies. In an startling move, the capture of the girl is staged as a mock-crucifixion, as she hangs from both wrists from a pair of cross-beams in Mirakle’s laboratory; while when his experiment fails, and the girl dies, Mirakle not only falls to his knees before her, but clasps his hands and bows his head in an attitude of prayer. In this single, audacious sequence, everything – the acting, the writing, the cinematography and the art direction – comes together, and does so magnificently. The pity of this film is, nothing else in it comes remotely close to matching the impact of this one short interlude. It is, however, interesting to contemplate this scene in light of the prominence given in the rest of the film to religious imagery, and the association of those shots to the character of Camille. Apart from the looming background presence of Notre Dame, Karl Freund’s camera lingers again and again upon the sign of the cross, in particular the necklaces worn by both the Woman and by Camille, and the crucifix on the wall of the latter’s room. There is also a delicately-lit shot of Camille praying, immediately before her abduction by Erik. Both the content and the staging of these moments link Camille with her doomed predecessor, she of the “tainted” blood, for whom the cross brings not protection, but only pain and death.

 

Since the laboratory scene is what today we single out for praise about Murders In The Rue Morgue, it almost goes without saying that in 1932, this sequence was what most attracted the wrath of the censors (although they were also outraged by the implications of Mirakle’s plans for Camille, which apparently they interpreted the same way we do). Even in those looser pre-Code days, many local censorship boards took their scissors to this confronting material, rendering the film even more incoherent and confusing in the process. It is hardly surprising that it failed to find favour with the public. When the film was submitted for re-release following the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, it emerged with next to nothing of this pivotal scene intact. Under the Code, the Woman’s desperate screaming, and Mirakle’s indifference to it, the promotion of evolution (though it be by a madman), the sexual overtones of the plot, and the torture scene and its staging were all considered objectionable, their rejection accompanied by a lofty notice of reproof penned by Joseph Breen himself.

Of course, it can be rather difficult to take Breen’s condemnatory response to Murders In The Rue Morgue all that seriously these days, given that it also contained a wonderful example of from the sublime to the ridiculous. Joining the laboratory sequence on the cutting-room floor was a brief exchange between two elderly men of the town, seen ogling the “Arabian dancers” at the carnival. “Do they bite?” inquires one jocularly. “Oh, yes,” replies his friend placidly, “but you have to pay extra for that....”

Footnote:  While we can only suppose that they were undertaken with a view to speeding up the introduction of the protagonists, the overall effect upon Murders In The Rue Morgue of the editorial changes enforced by Carl Laemmle Jr was pretty dire. As the film now stands, it includes such absurd touches as the Woman of the streets stepping into Mirakle’s carriage, in which we have been shown that Erik is sitting, without reacting to the ape’s presence.

The self-defeating nature of “Junior”’s re-cutting is perhaps best reflected these days in the fact that in an issue of Video Watchdog a few years back, Tim Lucas undertook a theoretical re-re-cutting of the film. Under his proposed schema, the film opens with the recovery of the body (which is not that of the Woman of the streets, as it is naked, as she was not), and Pierre’s visit to the morgue, establishing both the circumstances of the murders and Pierre’s grim habits. Then comes Mirakle’s encounter with the Woman of the streets, and then the carnival, with Pierre’s friends trying to distract him from his haunting of the morgue, and Mirakle transferring his attentions to the virginal Camille. Upon reflection, it can be seen that this shuffling of the early scenes makes a great deal more sense out of it all.

Want a second opinion of Murders In The Rue Morgue? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.

 

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----posted 19/12/2009