“Erik the Ape-man. The beast with a human soul.”
The place is Paris. The time is 1845. The mad scientist is Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi). He is doing experiments trying to cross humans with apes. He believes that men evolved from apes and is trying to prove his theory. To do so he abducts young women and injects them with ape blood. Many failures results in many deaths. He wants to create a mate for his talking sideshow ape Erik (Charles Gemora). Of course only Dr. Mirakle can understand Erik’s language.
Pierre Dupin (Leon Ames) is a young medical student and a detective. He and his fiancé Camille L’Espanaye (Sidney Fox) visit a carnival sideshow with their friends Paul (Bert Roach) and Mignette (Edna Marion). There they see Erik the Ape-man. Erik is drawn to Camille. When Mirakle invites them to take a closer look at Erik, the Ape takes Camille’s bonnet. Pierre tries to get it back and is attacked by the Ape. Mirakle makes Erik back off and offers to replace the bonnet. Pierre refuses the offer and they leave. Mirakel has his servant Janos (Noble Johnson) follow them.
Pierre has been doing autopsies on some of the women who have recently died. He finds a foreign substance in the blood of each one. Eventually he discovers it is Ape blood. In the meantime Mirakle sends Camille a new bonnet to replace the one that Erik took. He asks her to visit Erik. When she refuses he sends Erik to kidnap her. Pierre is on his way to Camille’s house to check on her when he hears her screams. Camille’s screams alert everyone. The police prefect (Brandon Hurst) wastes a lot of time questioning everyone in the building while Mirakle and Erik carry Camille away into the night.
“Murders in the Rue Morgue” was released in 1932. It was directed by Robert Florey and produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. You can tell that Laemmle was involved since the opening credits were accompanied by “Swan Lake”. The movie is loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. It is also a pre-code movie.
Despite it being pre-code some violent sequences prompted Universal to cut the film down from 80 minutes to 61. Still, they could cut the movie six ways from Sunday and not get around main plot. Inter-species breeding. Bestiality, especially with prostitutes tied to a cross is a big no-no. Not to mention the religious undertones when Mirakle is on one knee, hands clasped together as if in prayer, in front of a dead girl that is tied to a cross wallowing in his failure at trying to create life. That one scene would have been enough to send the censors into orbit.
Lugosi is quite good as the mad scientist and for the most part looked regal and authoritative. Although his one eyebrow was a little off putting. For the most part the ape is a guy in a gorilla suit, but some shots were interspersed with quick cuts of chimps and orangutans. Kudos for them choosing all ape species and not tossing in a monkey.
In watching the movie some scenes seemed a little disconnected. Later I found that some of the scenes were moved around so that the romantic aspect between Pierre and Camille was presented earlier than was originally filmed. I believe that originally the film was supposed to open with scene involving the prostitute who ended up tied to the cross. Then Pierre’s investigation at the morgue and then the carnival scenes. That actually seems more logical to me. Now if they could find the missing 19 minutes the movie might be more on a par with some of Laemmle’s better known productions.
I think that the shuffled scenes and the missing bits and pieces made the film just a little disjointed. It’s not as easy to stay involved in a movie when you can occasionally loose your place. Otherwise it was good. It just could have been better.