Bela Lugosi - Dr. Mirakle
Sidney Fox - Camille L'Espanaye
Leon Waycoff - Pierre Dupin
Bert Roach - Paul
Brandon Hurst - Prefect of Police
Arlene Francis - Prostitute
Robert Florey - Director
Carl Laemmle - Producer
Tom Reed - Screenwriter
Karl Freund - Cinematographer
Edgar Allan Poe - Original Story
Heinz Roemheld - Stock Music
George Melford, who had directed the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931), was originally given the directorial assignment for Murders in the Rue Morgue, but Universal placed it in the hands of Robert Florey after removing him from Frankenstein (1931). Caught in a financial pinch, the studio decided to economize on Murders in the Rue Morgue by eliminating the 1840 costumes and sets and modernizing the story. After director Florey protested, the studio restored the costume period but slashed the budged by $40,000. Florey walked off the set, but eventually was persuaded to return. With the successful public reception of Frankenstein, the studio spent $10,000 more on extra action footage to energize the slow story spots before release.
Florey recalled the film: "I wrote the Rue Morgue adaptation in a week and directed the film in four. That was during the fall of 1931. My association with Lugosi lasted for a month. He was habitually silent and not given to conversation. Between scenes he retired in his dressing room. I was very busy directing a number of players and spoke to Lugosi only to discuss scenes we were about to shoot and how I would want him to interpret them. It was at times difficult to control his tendency to chew the scenery. In Rue Morgue I used the same device I employed in my Frankenstein adaptation. Bela Lugosi became Dr. Mirakle--a mad scientist disirous of creating a human being--not with body parts stolen from a graveyard and a brain from a lab, but by the mating of an ape with a woman."
Despite the story's roots in the Edgar Allan Poe classic, the film bore more of a resemblance to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). The amusement park background, Mirakle's sinister lecture in the tent, the substitution of the ape for the somnambulist and some of the distorted sets, lend credibility to the report that German film influenced Hollywood. The released film differed from Florey's version. Hoping to lessen the grim beginning, Universal transposed the sequence where Mirakle picks up a prostitute in the fog and uses her in a laboratory experiment, to a position later in the film. The carnival sequence was insterted at the opening.
Leon Waycoff (who later changed his name to Ames) and Arlene Francis made their film debuts in Murders in the Rue Morgue. Phillipine-born Charles Gemora played Erik, the ape. He also created the ape suit, but Joe Bonoma doubled for Gemora in the tricky stunt work. Gemora died in 1962.
Lugosi's foreign background and odd personality added to the blanket of mystery surrounding the strange Dr. Mirakle. His portrayal of the mad scientist perfectly combined insanity and genius and gave it an almost heroic quality. The Doctor, obsessed with a dream of having his fantastic theory of evolution accepted, living a solitary existence devoted to experiment and calmly murdering to achieve his purpose, was plausibly acted by Lugosi and became the standard model of mad scientists to come.
Murders in the Rue Morgue contains enough shocking material--especially the gruesome laboratory scenes where Mirakle experiments on his female victims--to qualify a greater horror film stature that it received. Poe's nightmarish Paris was brought alive by Karl Freund's camera and Charles Hall's settings of narrow winding streets, eerie rooftop sequences and Mirakle's secret laboratory in the oldes part of the city.
Murders in the Rue Morgue was adapted for the 3-D color screen later by Warner Bros. in 1954 with Karl Malden in Lugosi's rewritten role. It was retitled Phantom of the Rue Morgue, and Gemora again played the ape. In 1971 it was again brought to the screen under its original title with Jason Robards Jr. in Lugosi's role.
--RICHARD BOJARSKI, from The Films of
Bela Lugosi, 1980
A selection of Rue Morgue films.
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A selection of Rue Morgue in books.
A History of Horror
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