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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Critique Quotes At the movies

1932, 1954, 1971, 1986

The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe first editionPamphlet, The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe, 1843
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1841 in Graham's Magazine

First book publication
1845 in collection Tales

Literature form

Crime, mystery, horror

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 15,000 words

Murders in the Rue Morgue scene 1954
Gee, I wonder what kind of creature could have made this entry through the window in this 1954 film.

A new villain

Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954): Film, 83 minutes; director Roy Del Ruth; writers Harold Medford, James R. Webb; featuring Karl Malden, Steve Forrest, Patricia Medina

Warner Brothers' Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954) is an odd mixture of faithful story adaptation, remake of the earlier fanciful Bela Lugosi film based on the same story, and horror-wannabe.

The studio had just had a huge success with the Vincent Price-led House of Wax in garish colour and 3D the previous year and hoped to repeat it with the Edgar Allan Poe tale.

The time of the story is updated to the latter 1800s but the Paris setting is kept (despite the film being shot entirely in Hollywood) and the basic crime of the story—the mysterious violent murder of a room's occupants—are retained.

But, as in the earlier adaptation of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", a villainous scientist is front and centre—now called Doctor Marais and played by Hollywood veteran Karl Malden. He is the keeper of the ape and also has designs on young professor Dupin's girlfriend. The doctor's mad theories this time have to do with the killer instinct he believes exists in all creatures. (The period is post-Darwin now.)

Steve Forrest as Dupin
Steve Forrest as Dupin.

In this telling of the story, the initial chief suspect in the murders is Paul Dupin himself. (Yes, the C. Auguste Dupin of the story, renamed the more stereotypical Pierre in 1932, is now rechristened with the more Anglo-friendly Paul.) Dupin sets about investigating to exonerate himself at first and to save his love interest eventually.

The two romantic leads are winningly played by low-profile Hollywood actors Steve Forrest and Patricia Medina. As the nominal protagonist, Forrest is appropriately handsome and personable, but like Ames in the earlier film he's overshadowed by the villain, the girl and the animal.

Medina has scenes similar to those of Sidney Fox in the earlier film, fending off advances by both the doctor and his beast and at one point being carried into a tree, King Kong-style, by the latter. We get plenty of female screaming into the camera as befits a horror film.

Much of this probably played out well in the state of 3D in 1954 and reports of anyone who's seen it in a 3D revival are positive. It's been shown on television a few times in 2D but it seems to be unavailable on DVD so far, which is too bad since, as a 1950s horror film, it's at least partially successful. It reminds me a little of the cheesier Hammer Studio horror films of the 1950s and 1960s.

Sensationalistic trailer for 1954's Phantom of the Rue Morgu.e

In any case, the plot careening wildly between Poe's story and Hollywood sensation, plus the lack of any real intellectual detective work, makes it another bust for fans of Poe's detective stories.

A cinematic experience true to Poe's intentions was yet to come.

— Eric


Critique Quotes At the movies

1932, 1954, 1971, 1986