Release Date(s)1932 (December 17, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: C+
Premiering in 1932 to a mild bit of controversy, Murders in the Rue Morgue was not received all that well by the general public, particularly by the film’s exhibitors who saw fit to trim out many of its more salacious and disturbing elements—mild though they may seem by today’s standards.
Released hot on the heels of the success of both Dracula and Frankenstein, it was also the beginning of an era of memorable but profitable horror films for Universal Pictures. However, the director of Murders in the Rue Morgue, Robert Forley, did not receive the recognition that he perhaps should have. Since that time, the film’s aftermarket life has allowed it to reach far beyond its theatrical exhibition trappings and gain new and appreciative fans who see it as one of the best of the “Universal Horrors” outside of its aforementioned monster movie counterparts.
Adapted from the story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue takes place in the Paris of 1845. In it, Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) is a crazed scientist convinced that man has evolved from apes, despite cries of heresy from those he encounters. Mirakle goes so far as to kidnap young women and inject them with the blood of his caged ape Erik in the hopes of making a compatible companion for him. After many failed attempts, he soon sets his ghoulish sights on the beautiful Camille (Sidney Fox), the fiancée of Pierre (Leon Ames), a medical student who is wary of Mirakle, his beliefs on evolution, and what he might be up to.
Although Murders in the Rue Morgue doesn’t fully follow the original Poe story—even its murderous opening act moved towards the end of the film—it’s quite effective due to Bela Lugosi’s towering performance, the direction of Robert Forley, and the cinematography of Karl Fruend, the latter of whom shot both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Tod Browning’s Dracula. Besides his wonderful staging and uses of shadow, there’s also the employment of quick cutting for reaction shots, which are out of the ordinary for the era, even for a pre-code film.
Murders in the Rue Morgue was infamously recut prior to its release, trimming nearly 20 minutes out of it for a final running time of 61 minutes. The final cut shifts a couple of key scenes around to emphasize the relationship between Camille and Pierre earlier on, but also to give a proper introduction to Mirakle before we see him engaging in his dastardly activities. Unfortunately, this also leaves a couple of logical lapses behind in the final cut. Perhaps the ridiculous doting dialogue exchanges between Camille and Pierre were more apt for reduction. Still, nothing detracts from the film’s more memorable sequences, those that as previously mentioned, were expunged by many exhibitors during its initial theatrical run. More’s the pity.
Scream Factory debuts Murders in the Rue Morgue on Blu-ray in the US utilizing what appears to be the same master used for the French Blu-ray release of the film from a couple of years ago. The clarity and natural grain found on this master is miles beyond anything previously seen. The master contains occasional leftover damage, including scratches, speckling, frame damage, mild instability, and staining, but considering the age of the material, it’s particularly sharp and precise overall. Contrast and brightness levels are ideal while black levels offer surprising depth. Delineation isn’t perfect, but for the most part, characters and objects have clear distinction.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. While mild hiss and crackle are leftover—the latter occurring primarily during the opening titles—the sound is much cleaner elsewhere. The track itself is flat, but dialogue exchanges have a decent amount of clarity to them. It’s worth noting that the French Blu-ray release features an altered soundtrack with added music. The audio provided for this release rectifies that, featuring music only during the opening and closing credits. The majority of the film plays silent otherwise.
The extras are brief, but there are two great audio commentaries: one with author and film historian Gary D. Rhodes, and the other with author and film historian Gregory William Mank. The commentary by Rhodes focuses more on how the film came into being, going all the way back to the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s original work, while the Mank commentary is more screen specific, going into many details about the film, its cast and crew, and its release. Also included is the film’s original re-release theatrical trailer and an animated still gallery featuring 43 images of promotional photos, posters, and lobby cards.
Murders in the Rue Morgue is a surprisingly strong piece of work, one that further established Bela Lugosi as the crowning prince of darkness in the eyes of the movie-going public. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it offers much more than its Poverty Row alternatives, many of which also feature Bela Lugosi, but in less interesting roles. In any case, it’s nice to finally have one of the lesser known “Universal Horrors” on Blu-ray. Highly recommended for that alone.
– Tim Salmons