Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932 film)

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Murders in the Rue Morgue
theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Florey
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Written by Robert Florey (adaptation)
John Huston (add'l. dialogue)
Ethel M. Kelly (uncredited)
Screenplay by Tom Reed
Dale Van Every
Based on Murders in the Rue Morgue
1841 short story
by Edgar Allan Poe
Starring Bela Lugosi
Sidney Fox
Music by Heinz Roemheld (stock music, uncredited)
Cinematography Karl W. Freund
Edited by Miton Carruth
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
February 21, 1932 (US)
Running time
80 minutes (original cut)
61 minutes (theatrical cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $186,090[1]

Murders in the Rue Morgue is a 1932 American Pre-Code horror film, very loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". Bela Lugosi, one year after his performance as Dracula, portrays a lunatic scientist who abducts women and injects them with blood from his ill-tempered caged ape. Karl Freund's cinematography and Robert Florey's direction have been praised by critics and characterized as "expressionistic" by Leonard Maltin.[2] Despite the film being pre-Code, violent sequences prompted Universal to cut its running time from 80 minutes to 61 minutes.[3]

This film was produced as a compensatory package for Lugosi and Florey, after both were dropped from 1931's Frankenstein. Lugosi had originally been cast as Dr. Frankenstein,[citation needed] and the film was to be directed by Florey, who had been developing the coveted project.[4] Lugosi was subsequently demoted to play the mute monster, however, which he claimed to have turned down. Florey was replaced as director by James Whale, as producer Carl Laemmle was both unsatisfied with Florey's work on the project, and had given Whale first choice of any Universal property at the time. The box office results for Murders in the Rue Morgue were disappointing, and Lugosi's original Universal contract for Dracula was not extended. Today, however, the film is generally well-regarded by critics and is considered a cult classic.[5]


In Paris in 1845, a mad scientist, Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi), abducts young women and injects them with ape blood, in order to create a mate for his talking sideshow ape Erik (Charles Gemora, the gorilla performer).

Young Pierre Dupin, a young naive medical student and detective (Leon Ames — credited as Leon Waycoff — in the role of Poe's standard detective icon, C. Auguste Dupin), his fiancée Camille L'Espanaye (Sidney Fox, in the role of an original character in the short story), and their friends Paul (Bert Roach) and his girl Mignette (silent film actress Edna Marion, in her last film role) visit carnival sideshows, including Mirakle's sideshow, where he exhibits Erik. Both master and servant are enchanted by Camille, whom Mirakle plans to become Erik's mate. He invites her to come and take a closer look at Erik, who grabs Camille's bonnet. Dupin tries to get it back, when Erik tries to strangle him. Mirakle backs him off and offers Camille to replace the bonnet. But Camille is reluctant and suspicious to give the doctor her address, so, when they leave, Mirakle orders his servant Janos (Noble Johnson) to follow her.

Erik enters Camille's room, with the shadow of his hand appearing over her head.

One of Mirakle's victims, a prostitute, is found dead in a river (a homage to another Dupin-Poe tale, "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt"), and is fished out and taken to the police station. Dupin wants to examine the girl's blood but the morgue keeper (D'Arcy Corrigan) won't allow. A bribe convinces him to draw some of the blood himself and deliver it to Dupin the next day. Dupin discovers in the blood a foreign substance, also found in the blood of other victims.

Mirakle visits Camille and asks her to visit Erik again, but when she refuses, he sends Erik to kidnap her. Dupin happens to be passing out of the flat, hears her screams, and tries to enter the room but it is locked. The police arrive when the ape has already retreated and Dupin is arrested. Neither Madame L'Espanaye (Betty Ross Clarke) nor her daughter are found. The police prefect (Brandon Hurst, in a role based on the character G—from Poe's Dupin stories) 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). Camille's mother is found dead, stuffed in the chimney (the fate of Camille herself in the original story), and her hand clutching ape fur. Dupin points out from the fur that Erik himself may be involved.

The police, along with Dupin, run to Mirakle's hideout. Before they arrive, Erik turns against his master and strangles him. He grabs Camille when the police arrive and they chase him. The police shoot Janos in the back when he tries to keep them at bay. Erik, pursued, is cornered on the roof of a small dockside house. He confronts Dupin, who shoots the animal dead and eventually saves his fiancée from the peril.


Lugosi as marketed in the film's trailer


Murders in the Rue Morgue was filmed in approximately one month, from October 19, 1931 to November 13, 1931 as documented in the New York Times. However, to compete with the success of Frankenstein (1931), the studio asked for additional scenes and retakes that were shot from December 10, 1931 to December 19, 1931. It was filmed in a studio at Universal Studios in California. Its budget was approximately $190,000.

Before the film’s production, the director, Robert Florey, and lead actor Bela Lugosi, were set to adapt a film version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, with the arrival of young director James Whale, Florey was involuntarily removed from the project. As compensation, Florey was assigned to Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue instead, along with Bela Lugosi, who was originally cast as the Creature.

In production, according to the history provided by the American Film Institute, Florey, hoped to keep the film as close to its roots as possible. He wanted the film to be set in 1840s Paris as it was originally written. However, in competition with other horror films of the time, Florey’s employers at Universal pushed for a modernization of the story. In response to this, Florey devised two adaptations of the plot. In the end, there was a compromise, with Florey being allowed his romantic setting, and Universal getting their modernized version. Along with this, Universal pushed to change the characters in Poe’s story as well, aiming for more sex appeal and romantic subplots.

The film premiered on February 21, 1932 in the US and was later re-release on April 15, 1949 according to IMDb.


All in all, Murders in the Rue Morgue received quite mixed reviews. In an issue of Photoplay Magazine from 1932, it was written that the critic “shook and shuddered when (they) saw this picture and so will you.” Because of the increasing popularity of horror films due to the success of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), there was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this film. N.Y. Daily News writes that Murders in the Rue Morgue, “sends your thumping heart up into your throat!” Much praise is also given to cinematographer Karl W. Freund for giving the film a “German Expressionistic” look.

A lot of the criticism arises from comparisons to other great horror films from the time period. A writer for the NY Times wrote, “The entire production suffers from an overzealous effort at terrorization, and the cast, inspired by the general hysteria, succumbs to the temptation to overact.”


  • A print is preserved in the Library of Congress collection.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990, p. 32
  2. ^ "Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)-Overview". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)". Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Notes"
  5. ^ "Murders in the Rue Morgue". August 21, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  6. ^ Catalog of Holdings The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress (<-book title) p.122 c.1978 by the American Film Institute

External links[edit]