Poe Week: The Murders at the Rue Morgue: A Study of Two Films


By Danielle DeLisle

murders_rueThe tales of Edgar Allan Poe have seen no shortage of movie adaptations. Some of these movies have remained true to the original story and others have only taken a passing glance at the source material. The adaptations of the classic “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is one such case.

The story was first published in 1841 and is often cited as the first detective story. The main character of C. Auguste Dupin was the predecessor of famous fictional sleuths Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The plot concerns the mystery surrounding the murders of two women in Paris. The brutality of the crime and the problem of how the murderer entered stump the police. Dupin steps in and, using what Poe called “ratiocination”, otherwise known as ‘logic’, cracks the case. You can read the story in its entirety here.

This story has been adapted a few times and in various forms, but this review will focus on two very different movies.

The first is Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), starring Bela Lugosi, Sidney Fox, and Leon Ames. This movie, the first full-length cinematic adaptation of the story, was made just one year after Lugosi played his most infamous role: Count Dracula. The plot of the movie only takes a passing glance at the original story. Some of the names remain the same and the fact that there is a monkey in the movie is pretty much all the two have in common. A mad scientist is trying to find a mate for his mutant ape by injecting virgins with the ape blood. The cinematography in the movie is actually quite good and dark. There is also an incredible creepy scene in the middle involving the heroine and Lugosi. These are really the only two bright spots in the film, because the rest of it comes off as very silly.

murders_rue_1986The second film is The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986), starring George C. Scott, Val Kilmer, Ian McShane and Rebecca De Mornay. This movie follows the plot of the original much closer than the Lugosi version, although there are several added subplots to lengthen the movie. One involves a romance between the daughter of Dupin (De Mornay) and her fiance, and then her father’s assistant. The other subplot deals with the animosity between the prefect of police (McShane) and Dupin (Scott). The movie does a really good job of evoking the atmosphere of the tale and Scott performs wonderfully as Dupin. The script treats the characters with respect and can be forgiven for padding the proceedings with subplots.

The question of which one you should watch really depends on what type of movie you prefer. If you aren’t too concerned about sticking to the original material and don’t mind a bit of cheese with your movie, go with the Lugosi version. If you prefer something a little closer to the original and a piece that takes itself a little more seriously, go with the Scott version. In either case, the fact that Poe is still read, and still inspires moviemakers and writers, speaks volumes to his talent and contribution to the written word.

Bio: A writer and (somewhat) artist, Ms. DeLisle lives in the wilds of the U.S., where she writes about the crazy happenings in the world. She can be found online at: http://picaresqueblog.blogspot.com.

You can purchase Murders at the Rue Morgue (1932) on Amazon or watch the full length film online. You can also purchase The Murders at the Rue Morgue (1986) on Amazon.