Trying to create a mate, Groovy Ghoulies! That’s what today’s movie is all about. What do you do when you take a circus ape, a crazy scientist injecting blood into the ladies of Paris, and old Dracula Bela Lugosi himself? You get a moody little film called “The Murders In The Rue Morgue.” Does Bela retain that star power from Dracula a year before? Let’s find out together.
The pre-code days of Hollywood felt like a free for all, and this is really a good example of it. Edgar Allen Poe wrote this story in 1841. My wife has the complete work of Poe, and I’ve been meaning to check it out, so this might be where I start. A little back story on this one. Bela Lugosi and Director Robert Florey were both ready to film Frankenstein. Depending on what you read, they either left the project or were kicked off of the film. Universal still had them under contract and this was the project they were assigned to.
The story follows circus sideshow act and resident mad scientist Dr. Mirakle trying to mate his ape, Erik, with 19th century
Paris women by injecting them with blood. I’m sure there’s some Freudian undertones in there. Detective Pierre Dupin (a staple in Poe detective stories), his fiancee Camille, and two friends witness Mirakle’s performance. The ape is smitten with Camille, takes her bonnet and tries to strangle Dupin. Mirakle thinks Camille would be a perfect for Erik. They leave and we learn dead prostitutes are being found in the river. See, this is better than soap operas! Mirakle dispatches a servant to follow Camille while Dupin tries to solve the murders. Eventually, the ape gets loose, Mirakle meets an end we all saw coming, and Camille is captured. Erik climbs the Empire State Building and….wait, that’s a different one!
Bela Lugosi is great in this, and I think the camera really loves him here. We get the nice close-ups that you have to have in a Lugosi film. He rocks the unibrow and even gets to perform some torture to a poor victim of Erik. He commands the ape well. There’s a scene where he’s prowling around Camille’s building and he slinks like he’s melted into the wall. His death has become one of my favorites. He meets his end at Erik’s hands by strangulation. And he’s so dramatic about it. He literally freezes in mid-air before falling to the ground. Great stuff. And this is where the real fun begins.
We are treated to some of the rooftops of Paris, always a fascinating thing in film and stage. Erik takes to the roofs with Camille and the chase is on. This is one of my favorite parts of the film and it’s a real nail biter. Carlos Gemora played the man in the gorilla suit and he played many more in his day. He became the guy for this stuff. In the fifties, he would move onto sci-fi and appear in War of The Worlds, among others. They used a real ape for close-ups and they didn’t too many of the gorilla suit, and that worked to their advantage.
Sidney Fox played the role of Camille, and she plays her role well. She had that girl next door quality. She seemed the most real character to me and she screams well too! I would like to find some more of her work to watch. I learned she met an untimely demise at the age of 34 to sleeping pills.
This didn’t do well in the box office and Lugosi’s original contract was not extended with Universal. He would reach a new deal and continue to appear in Universal Features, just not at the Dracula level. He did go on to make a series of Poe movies with Boris Karloff and I look forward to them. This is a great, dark picture. If you’re a fan of Lugosi or Poe, give it a try.
Toy Time! I don’t remember where I got this rubber ape and where it ended up. It seems to be almost Kong-like and I think I used as a stand-in. I remember the head was just wide enough to fit a Star Wars figure’s head in, and the hand was able to hold Princess Leia. I had a couple of other rubber apes but can’t for the life of me find it. I had an orange ape with a banana in it’s hand which I wanted to share; maybe with the next ape movie, a picture will turn up. But this ape was cool and it was pretty tall too. Fun stuff!
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