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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

CritiqueQuotes • 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 1971
A disfigured Herbert Lom steals the 1971 Poe adaptation like a character from another horror tale.

Murders in the Belle Époque

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971): Film, 87 minutes; director Gordon Hessler; writers Christopher Wicking, Henry Slesar; featuring Jason Robards, Christine Kaufmann, Herbert Lom, Michael Dunn, Adolfo Celi

I wonder if the missing "The" in front of the title of the 1971 film Murders in the Rue Morgue is intentional. Indicating this is not an adaptation of the murder mystery by Edgar Allan Poe but a tale of some other murders in the same place?

For it hardly references Poe's famous short story of 1841 at all—except that the characters whose lives the film follows happen to be putting on a theatrical adaptation of the story about sixty years after the time of the story. The film opens with scenes of the drama as presented, without any indication that this is a play within the movie.

Watching the hammy acting and fake-looking effects of those first few minutes, at least one viewer was led to think this was one of the cheapest and worst movies ever filmed...until the camera pulled back to show the theatre audience. After that, I discovered it was just a middlingly bad movie. And not really a take on Poe's story at all.

Even those few minutes of the play didn't follow the Poe story much, featuring a beautiful damsel tied up, a dungeon of sorts and a beheading. There is a rampaging ape (obviously a man in a monkey suit), as in the story, but that's about the only connection.

The main story though follows a rather muddled plot, involving a disfigured man who is long thought to be dead but is running around Paris pouring acid on people close to his rival, the director and lead actor of the play. As the revengeful villain Rene, the Czech-English actor Herbert Lom, wearing a Phantom of the Opera-style mask, steals the focus from the putative lead, Cesar Charron, played by American acting great Jason Robards, and the woman they both love, the stage actress Madeline, played by German film actress Christine Kaufmann.

So much so that some critics said the film was more an adaptation of the novel The Phantom of the Opera than of the Poe story.

Meanwhile, Madeline, whose mother was the victim of an axe murderer, has recurring fantastic episodes involving a man wielding an axe and a body falling from the theatre's catwalk. Awake she is led into madman Rene's clutches by a gentleman dwarf (Michael Dunn).

Trailer for the 1974's Poe-free Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Also meanwhile, the police led by Inspector Vidocq (Italian actor Adolfo Celi, best known as an early James Bond villain) is investigating the acidic murders, with Cesar Charron as his top suspect. (Incidentally, there's a remote connection between this character and the Poe story: Poe's creation of his sleuth Dupin is thought to have been based in part on French criminologist Eugène-François Vidocq, credited as the first real-life private detective.)

Toward the end, with the fantasy scenes inter-cutting the supposedly real action and with repeated over-the-top plot twists, it becomes difficult to follow the story and accurately assess the relative guilts of the various parties.

Along the way though, we get a colourful experience of Paris of the Belle Époque, with carnivals, Can-can dancers, riotous brothels, and artists of all kinds running amuck—quite a change from the usual dark and noirish environments displayed in earlier-situated Poe stories.

Even the blood, of which there is plenty, is bright and garish.

All such fun, if you don't take it seriously. Not really Poe though.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1932, 1954, 1971, 1986