Unseen is the… – Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)

There are strange happenings in the Rue Morgue, women being killed and their bodies mutilated. The local police have no idea who might be responsible, the accounts by witnesses leading nowhere and at times, making no sense. Finally, they get a break and it points to Prof. Paul Dupin, a man who swears he is innocent, everything that points to him being just a coincidence. Suffice it to say, he must prove he is not responsible and as he comes to the conclusion that it was a gorilla that was culpable for the murders, he is looked upon as a fool and a liar.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue would not be the first adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story, Bela Lugosi starring in the more famous film version but it would end up being an enjoyable telling of the story and released in 3D on top of it. Starring Karl Malden, Claude Dauphin, Patricia Medina and Steve Forrest, the movie would start out innocently enough until that first body is discovered and it is then that the audience is taken for a ride into mystery and murder. Malden is perfectly slimy as the villain of the piece, as the man who owns a zoo and practices his skills of hypnotism upon a gorilla he keeps locked away from the public. Even more disturbing are the machinations he plots to gain the love of Jeanette as played by Medina, going so far as to pin the murders on her fiancé. Driving home the feeling of unease viewers get watching Malden’s Dr. Marais is the fact that he has schemed against other women before, obviously to no avail though it has not stopped him either.

The horror present extends further than just Marais, director Roy Del Ruth creating a very moody atmosphere to engage the senses of his audience, through the hopelessness of the police, the bodies which continue to pile up even when there is a suspect in custody, all of it adding up to a gruesome picture. It does tend to lose a little bit of its effectiveness when the gorilla is revealed to be the killer and it playing out more like King Kong but it is all very entertaining nevertheless. One has to feel a little sorry for the gorilla, the poor creature taken from its home and subjected to a cold, sunless and treeless prison with nothing but abuse for company. It is no wonder that things would turn out as they did even had Marais not tried to make the gorilla a weapon for his own ends.

Once it was all said and done, this particular version of Murders in the Rue Morgue was well-crafted, its cast a solid one and the direction just as good. If it had been a human killer, it might have been more effective because it is so very easy to hate another man but due to it being a hapless animal, how can one not feel sympathy for the creature no matter how many it might have killed?

3.5 out of 5

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