Going Ape

Murders in the Rue Morgue, based on the story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Robert Florey, Tom Reed, Dale Van Every, John Huston and Ethel M. Kelly, directed by Robert Florey, starring Bela Lugosi (Dr. Mirakle), Sidney Fox (Camille) and Leon Ames (Pierre Dupin) (1932): This could be Exhibit 1A of how Hollywood has always wreaked strange havoc when it adapts a movie from another medium (Exhibit 1 would be any version of Moby Dick prior to the John Huston version).

Poe’s original mid-19th-century short story is considered by many to be the first true detective story, featuring as it does seasoned Parisian crime-solver C. Auguste Dupin matching wits with a homicidal orangutan dressed up as a woman. This movie gives us some sort of ape, callow Parisian medical student Pierre Dupin, and Bela Lugosi as perverse scientist Dr. Mirakle. Oh, well.

Dr. Marakle’s obsession is to crossbreed an ape with a human woman. He kidnaps women and injects them with ape blood from the ape in question to see if they’re biologically compatible. The woman dies, Dr. Mirakle dumps the body in the Seine, and the process starts over again. Pierre Dupin figures out what he’s up to and the chase is on to save Pierre’s fiancee from the clutches of Lugosi and ape alike. Either Jack Pierce (Frankenstein) achieved remarkable heights with his ape makeup, or the extreme close-ups of the ape are actually of a real ape. It’s sorta hard to tell.

Filmed before the Production Code but released after, Murders in the Rue Morgue required an astonishing 19 minutes of cuts from its original 80-minute running time to get it up to Code standards. It’s still a pretty perverse exercise at points, and the sets and cinematography are moody and expressionistic. Universal’s army of German expatriates and other cinematic innovators were hard at work cooking up the look of the American horror film here as throughout the 1930’s Universal horror catalogue.

Lugosi and the director got this movie as a sort of consolation prize for being denied starring in and directing Frankenstein, and it’s pretty entertaining. And an hour long. I’d love to see that deleted footage, but it probably doesn’t exist anymore. Recommended.

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