Initial release February 21st 1932
Director Robert Florey
Produced by Carl Laemmie Jr
Screenplay by Tom Reed & Dale Van Every
Cinematography by Carl W Freund
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Released by Universal Pictures
Run Time 61 minutes
Bela Lugosi Dr Mirakle
Sidney Fox Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye
Leon Ames Pierre Dupin
Bert Roach Paul
Betty Ross Clarke Mademoiselle L’Espanaye
Brandon Hurst Prefect of Police
D’Arcy Corrigan Morgue Keeper
Noble Johnson Janos
Arlene Francis Streetwalker
Murders in the Rue Morgue opens in Paris 1845, the scene being a very crowded fairground. We see Pierre Dupin (Leon Ames ), a young medical student, his fiancée Camille L’Espanaye (Sidney Fox), and their friends Paul (Bert Roach) and his girlfriend Mignette (Edna Marion) looking very boisterous, drinks in hand toasting one another.They are viewing the carnival sideshows and we see them pushing their way through the crowds as they make their way around the many attractions.They stop in front of one, where we are treated to the site of belly dancers led by Lady Fatimar. Still in very jovial mood Paul asks Mignette if she could do the particular dance for him and unsurprisingly receives an emphatic No! and a slap on the face for his trouble.
They move on to another show featuring Red Indians or savages from the wilds of America, as the show master chooses to describe them. Our group of friends eventually end up in front of a show where the attraction is Erik the ape-man. The show master claims the ape’s hands can tear a man in half, but that he has a human soul and is more cunning than man and stronger than a lion. Camille asks Pierre if they should go into this one and he agrees and we hear that soldiers and children are half-price. We see them enter and Camille suggesting where they should sit.
Standing just inside the tent is however, the owner, Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) who suggests that they should sit in the front, so as they can see everything.They take their places in the front row. We hear our couple remarking on the owners strange appearance and accent, as they try to decide for themselves where he comes from. Our doctor calls for silence and introduces himself to the audience. He tells them that this is not just an ordinary carnival show, but a milestone in the development of life. The curtain is pulled aside and there are loud gasps from the audience. Starring out through a cage is Erik. Dr Mirakle insists he is speaking to them and tells them he will translate what he says. He claims he has learnt the apes language. It is a story of how it was captured from the African jungle where it lived with its mother, father and brothers and sisters, and carried away to these strange lands. The audience appear captivated and we see the camera pan from face to face for effect. Dr Mirakle outlines the transition from ape to man and says he will prove its kinship to man. He claims he will mix the blood of Erik with man. He then invites anyone who wishes to make the acquaintance of Erik to come forward. The claim is that the bars will prevent anybody being hurt. The audience are appalled and they start to leave. All except for our friends that is, who convincing themselves they are not afraid, go up onto the stage to meet the ape.
Eric immediately takes a shine to Camille and Dr. Mirakle tells her that Erik is only human and therefore has an eye for beauty. She commences to undo and take off her bonnet, but then the ape reaches through the bars and takes it. Suddenly Erik reaches out again and grabs Pierre, who is pulled towards him and against the cage bars. Quickly our doctor comes to the rescue and forces the ape to release his captive. The bonnet is however ruined , but an offer is made to replace it. This is refused. Camille is reluctant and very suspicious as the doctor wants to know her address. When they leave, Mirakle orders his servant Janos to follow her. ‘I must know where she lives’ we hear him utter. The scene ends with our doctor talking to his ape and remarking that the ape was smitten by Camille.
Next we see Dupin romancing Camille on her rooftop and pleading his undying devotion. Dr. Mirakle meanwhile, happens upon a Paris knife battle that leaves a traumatized prostitute (Arlene Francis) alone and very vunerable. Mirakle tries to comfort the shocked woman, but he has very much the opposite effect. He still tries to comfort her and eventually manages to lead her towards his coach and into it. His driver climbs onto the driving seat and the coach moves off.
We now witness a distressing scene with our woman tied to a cross and screaming. Mirakle had no intention of helping her and merely wanted her for his experiments. He is taking a blood sample from her arm and is getting very frustrated as these attempts to take the sample are being met with resistance. He tells her to hush. Finally he succeeds and carries it across his lab to test for compatibility. Disturbingly he does this with the site of our victim struggling and screaming in the background. More cries of hush, hush.
The sample is examined under the microscope and we hear a cry of dispair and see him smash his equipment crying ‘rotten blood’. Next he approaches the girl again , this time telling her that her blood is rotten, as black as her sins. Her head loles forward and she is dead. We witness the doctor kneeling in front of his victim, totally distraught. He tells his servant to get rid of her and we see the servant with an axe cutting through the ropes that she is tied to the cross with. The doctor then triggers a lever on the floor and the body falls through a trapdoor. He is heard to mutter ‘will my search ever end?’
Moving forward, a body is being fished out of the river watched by a group of vagrants. It is taken to the mortuary, where the mortuary keeper books it in, ‘age around 30, cause of death drowning’. She is allocated the number 13, unlucky?
Dupin now arrives at the mortuary where he is to examine two female corpses, only to be advised that there are now three. He examines the third and discovers she has the same marks on her arm as the others he has come to see. Dupin asks if he can take a specimen of the girls blood, but is told it is not possible. The morgue keeper (D’Arcy Corrigan) won’t allow it as there has been an instance of a body going missing. There are now very strict rules about medical students and bodies. A bribe soon settles the issue and convinces him to draw some of the blood himself and deliver it to Dupin the next night.
The scene now moves to Pierre’s and Paul’s home where Paul is cooking and Pierre is examining specimens under his microscope. Paul is complaining that Pierre is quite willing to offer a bribe of five francs to the mortuary keeper, whilst he has to work a miracle to put some food on the table. The morgue keeper arrives with the specimen and attempts to get some more money from the deal, but he fails and leaves.
We next hear that Pierre had performed an autopsy and discovered that the victim had not drowned, as supposed, There was no water in the lungs. On examination he discovers that all the victims died due to a strange foreign substance being introduced into their blood stream. He is puzzled and his thoughts go back to Dr Mirakle. A strange man?
At Carmille’s house there is excitement due to the arrival of a new bonnet. Carmille suggests it could have come from Pierre, but her mother dismisses this as she knows, as we do, that he is broke. The card inside the box reveals it is from Dr Mirakle and it also contains an invitation to the carnival that night. He says the stars promise much for her and if she goes all will be revealed. She also wonders how he found out where she lived.
A short diversion now as Carmille is due to go off to a picnic and the other guests arrive. A short singing interlude occurs and they all head off to enjoy themselves. At the picnic we witness the friendly banter of the guests. Carmille is on a swing asking Pierre if he notices anything different about her. It’s the bonnet, but when he realises who it’s from he appears very perturbed. He wonders what our doctor friend is up to? Pierre tells her that he will go to see Dr Mirakle instead of her.
Pierre arrives at the carnival where we see frenzied activity as it appears the show is being closed down. He looks through a curtain and sees Dr Mirakle sitting at a candlelit table talking to Erik. The ape becomes agitated as it senses Pierre’s presence. The doctor greets his visitor saying ‘no show tonight young man, the carnival is over’ . Now we see Pierre thank the doctor for the bonnet and tell him that Carmille sends her regrets. The show is now moving to Munich and we see the sheer disappointment in the doctors face on the realisation that he will not see Carmille as he had hoped. He bids Pierre goodnight on the premise that he is busy. Our visitor is however not that easily put off. He tells Dr Mirakle that he is himself a medical student and questions him on his experiments. He wants to know if he has written any papers on the subject, if he lives in Paris, but no information is forthcoming. He is quickly dismissed without being any the wiser. On leaving the tent Pierre overhears one of the helpers saying that the doctor is not going to Munich with the others, but is staying in Paris.
The next scene sees Pierre and Carmille talking and she is being updated as to what happened the previous evening. He also tells her of his apparent obsession, as he admits to visiting the Morgue on his way home. He tells her she is not to worry. Dr Mirakle, not happy by Carmille’s reluctance to go and see him is seen hiding in the shadows below their balcony, watching them. Pierre leaves with with the warning to keep her door locked.
As Carmille is saying goodnight to her mother we hear a tap on the door. She thinks it is Pierre, but on opening it is surprised to see it is Mirakle. He tells her not to be alarmed and makes an apology for the late hour. He had to see her, but she refuses to let him in. He is leaving Paris that night and asks her to visit Erik again. He says he has a message from the ape who is obsessed with her. As to be expected, she refuses and accuses him of being mad. She pushes on the door and our doctor is locked out. He is seen leaving. In a bizarre scene we see that Erik has been brought along in the doctors carriage. He points upwards and tells the ape that Camille is up there.
Pierre is in his flat examining diagrams and it is apparent from his actions that he has discovered something. He goes over to his friend Paul and wakes him up. The substances found in the dead women were the blood of a gorilla and their death was caused by its blood being injected into their veins. He fears for Camille’s safety and rushes to her.
Erik, meanwhile, is seen climbing into Camille’s apartment with the evil doctor looking on. The shadow of an apes paw appears and Camille screams as she wakes up and sees Erik standing over her. She faints. Her mother also wakes up startled and goes to her daughter. Pierre being alarmed by his discovery is rushing to Camille’s rescue with the aid of the police and passers-by. All this accompanied by screaming heard through the locked door. Pierre finally breaks down her door. There is no sign of her or her mother. She has been kidnapped by Erik and our doctor.
As all too often in our movies, we now have to experience the incompetence of the local police. On arrival, our policeman finds jewels and no body, so immediately rules out murder or a robbery. Pierre is prevented from going to Carmille’s assistance, as he is suspected of foul play and is told he must wait until the prefect arrives at the scene. We witness a drawn out questioning session by the prefect (Brandon Hurst,) as he laboriously interviews three witnesses. Italian Alberto Montani (Agostino Bogato), German Franz Odenheimer (Herman Bing) and a Dane (Torben Meyer). All of them state that they had heard Camille screaming and also someone else talking in a strange language (The German thinks it was Italian, the Italian thinks it was Danish and the Dane thinks it was German). Total confusion as it deteriorates into a heated argument between the three of them.
Pierre is then brought back into the room, his hands bound. He tries to explain what has happened. At this stage we hear another scream as someone has found Camille’s mother dead. She has been stuffed into the chimney, her hand clutching ape fur. Pierre is still not in the clear and when asked if he wants to make a confession he says no, an accusation. He points the finger at Mirakle, pointing out that one man was incapable of carrying out all these deeds. At long last he is believed, the evidence of the ape fur being indisputable.
At Mirakle’s laboratory it comes as no surprise when we learn that Camille’s blood is perfect. Even Erik appears to be excited. We now see the arrival of Pierre and the police. They knock on the door, but get no response and the view is that it is nothing but an empty house. Pierre is insistent this is not the case and they all move off to another door located at the side. They must break in. Mirakle is being warned by his servant of the police presence and the servant moves to bar the doors. He needs to buy time for his master.
Erik is released from his cage in preparation for their escape from the police, but in another twist in the story, he turns against his master. The doctor is pushed back, knocking over his laboratory equipment and then we are treated to a shadowy scene where our evil doctor is being strangled. He falls to the ground.
In desperation the police shoot through the door hitting the servant in the process. As they break through, Erik picks up Carmille, throws her over his shoulder and climbs the stairs to the roof. The arrival of our pair on the roof is accompanied by views of neighbours, passers by and a quickly assembling audience in the street below. Erik and Carmille are on the rooftop above with one of the policeman about to take aim and shoot the ape. He is stopped by Pierre, shouting ‘you fool’.
Erik rushes along the tops of buildings and he tries to gain more height by climbing up a drainpipe. It cannot sustain his weight and breaks and Erik narrowly avoids disaster. Erik continues on, still pursued by the police. He races over more rooftops and across buildings. He is finally cornered on the roof of a small dockside house and Pierre is able to reach the roof. The ape releases Carmille leaving her hanging from a ledge. With Camille out of the way, Pierre is free to shoot Erik. The ape falls off the rooftop to the ground. Pierre now rushes back to Carmille and pulls his fiancée up from the ledge to safety. This is applauded by the noisy crowd below in the street. They have followed the action all along the way. Our two lovers hug each other.
In a clever twist, in the final scene, the unlucky doctor is being admitted to the morgue. ‘Name, Miracko or something like that. Age, ho any age it doesn’t matter. Profession, they say he was a scientist or something. Death caused by, a snigger from the policeman, an Ape’.
Universal were in the market for a replacement for Lon Chaney who died in 1930 and so this Poe original was altered to serve as a Lugosi vehicle, adding a new character which he could portray, Dr. Mirakle, a fanatical pre-Darwinian evolutionist. Florey and Tom Reed collaborated on the continuity, while Reed later polished the script and wrote the dialogue with Dale Van Every. Last to be brought in for some additional dialogue was none other than John Huston, in one of his earliest Hollywood credits. Bela Lugosi does not disappoint however, and shows off his talent in a tremendous performance that’s probably among the best of his career.
Despite this, I do not think it is a classic at the level of Universal films like “Frankenstein” or “The Black Cat”, but must be considered a do not miss, if only for Karl Freund’s masterful cinematography and Bela Lugosi’s amazing performance. The legendary Karl Freund (Dracula, Metropolis, and many others) produced outstanding sets , the lighting is great, and the overall atmosphere perfect. Everything comes off as some creepy nightmare. Incidentally he was also involved with the “I Love Lucy” sitcom and you cannot get more of a contrast than that. Have to admit I was hooked on this one too. Freund himself would make his Hollywood debut as a director, with the genuinely brilliant Boris Karloff classic “The Mummy”.
Pierre Dupin in my opinion makes a good and convincing hero. The romance between Camille and himself is unremarkable, but never annoying. She appeals as a damsel in distress, whether being threatened by a glaring Lugosi or kidnapped by the ape. Some of the film’s comic relief, such as the no-nonsense morgue attendant, has aged very well. All adds to the films enjoyment.
Robert Florey shows flashes of brilliance, admittedly through the eye of Freund, with scenes such as Lugosi’s pitch in the carnival tent, Lugosi murdering a street prostitute, and the finale in Paris above ground. There were some scenes which you could say were a little mundane, but you cannot have everything. There have also been comments of lack of depth to some the characters as well as not creating enough suspense where it was sometimes needed.
How can anyone find fault with a classic rendering of Poe, a mad Lugosi and a Gorilla named Eric.
The film was produced as a kind of compensation for both Lugosi and Freund after they were dropped from Frankenstein. It was rumoured that Lugosi was offered the part of the monster instead, but that he turned it down.
Originally not a great hit at the box office, but like many films, after it matured with age, it became a cult classic.
Friends enjoy all the fun of the Carnival
A seat at the front is best, advises Dr Mirakle
Camille gives Erik the ape her bonnet
Mirakle and another victim of his experiments
Pierre Dupin in his quest to solve the murders visits the morgue
Pierre questions Mirakle on his experiments
Erik has kidnapped Camille
Camille at our villain’s mercy ?
Erik turns on his master and kills him
Erik claims Camille as his prize and takes to the rooftops
Retribution and the ape is killed
Our hero rescues his love in true traditional style