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Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

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Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) starring Bela Lugosi, Sidney Fox, Leon Ames
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Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) starring Bela Lugosi, Sidney Fox, Leon Ames

In Murders in the Rue Morgue, Bela Lugosi plays the part of Dr. Mirakle, a showman in Paris a century ago. He is showing his trained ape, Erik, in a sideshow while trying to prove the theory of evolution … By combining the ape’s blood with the blood of a human

Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi): [Responding to an audience member who has accused him of heresy] Heresy? Do they still burn men for heresy? Then burn me monsieur, light the fire! Do you think your little candle will outshine the flame of truth?

However, he decides to get his volunteers well, lets be honest, victims by kidnapping prostitutes off the streets. His first victim, Arlene Frances, is taken by the doctor after two would-be customers kill each other in a fight over her. And he takes her to his laboratory. After injecting her with ape blood, the poor woman dies. And then the mad Dr. Mirakle drops their lifeless corpses into the river, and tries again, and again, and again

Eventually, he kidnaps the innocent young lady, Camille LEspanaye (played by Sidney Fox) that he met earlier at the carnival with Erik’s help. But her boyfriend Pierre Dupin (played by Leon Ames, Meet Me in St. Louis), a medical student, is on the case, trying to find her before its too late; with his roommate Paul (Bert Roach) providing comedy relief.

Much of the success of the movie comes from the acting skill of Bela Lugosi.  He does a wonderful job of portraying the insane Dr. Mirakle.  And the rest of the cast does their jobs well. Something that’s done quite well is early on, at the sideshow.  Cutting between close-ups of an actual ape and shooting the man in the gorilla suit from behind, to maintain the illusion of an actual ape being used.

Editorial review of Murders in the Rue Morgue courtesy of

There isn’t much of Edgar Allan Poe left in this stylish but gruesome thriller. Bela Lugosi followed Dracula with a scenery-chewing performance as Dr. Mirakle, a mad scientist and sideshow hypnotist who uses his sideshow, which also features his trained gorilla (a stunt man in a phony, flea-bitten costume), as a cover for his sadistic experiments. His ape kidnaps street women whom Mirakle lashes to a crucifix-like pillory, strips to their underwear, and injects with simian blood. They inevitably die horribly, and he discards the bodies via a trap door over the river. When the ape falls in love with a lovely young Parisian miss (Sidney Fox), Mirakle sends him to abduct her from her attic room (one of the few elements left intact from Poe’s story).

Director Robert Florey, who inherited the project after losing Frankenstein to James Whale, shows his debt to the German expressionists with a gloomy, shadowy world of foggy alleys, misty riverbanks, and near-perpetual night (beautifully captured by cinematographer Karl Freund, later the director of The Mummy). Unfortunately ill-conceived comic relief too often breaks the carefully controlled mood of menace and the unsettling undercurrent of perversity, but Floreys striking images and inventive direction are enough to pull the film through the dead spots. Sean Axmaker

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