July 21st, 2011: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Cast and Crew:  Edgar Allan Poe (Story); John Huston (Additional Dialogue); Karl Freund (Cinematography); Jack P. Pierce (Make-Up); Carl Laemmle Jr. (Producer); Noble Johnson

What It’s About: Medical student Pierre Dupin (Leon Ames) takes his girl Camille (Sidney Fox) and his best friend (Pat Roach) to a carnival.  While there, they visit Dr. Mirakle’s (Bela Lugosi) carnival sideshow.  Dr. Mirakle is not just a carnival sideshow owner, he’s a scientist, trying to evolve his ape Erik (Charles Gemorra) into a man through infusions of human blood.  Dupin begins to wonder if Mirakle and his ape Erik could explain recent disappearances on the dock, while Erik takes a shine to Camille…

Why Watch it Today?: In a triumph of American “justice” the Scopes “Monkey” Trial ended today in 1925, with a guilty verdict for teacher John Scopes.  With American popular culture presenting evolution in ways as completely illogical, nonsensical and tinged with racism as today’s so-bad-its-good guilty pleasure it’s hardly surprising that Americans were dead set against and fearful about the concept of evolution (or perhaps this film with its mad evolutionist wanting to breed apes with women just reflects the times?).

Murders in the Rue Morgue is full of Pre-Code sleaziness, including implied bestiality; a woman tied up, slashed, and injected with ape blood; saucy “belly dancing” and off-color jokes. While it is not one of Universal’s best efforts, Murders in the Rue Morgue is moderately amusing, carried by Lugosi and scenes interesting to students of film history-the “ape carries girl across rooftops” sequence prefigures the next year’s King Kong and the carnival date with danger seems a clear inspiration for Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse.

Where to Get ItPublic libraries, Netflix (rental), or watch online at Amazon and iTunes.

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