Bela Lugosi headlines this Universal horror flick as a carnival showman determined to successfully inject a human being with gorilla blood to prove that man descended from ape. But who in 1845 Paris would willingly subject themselves to such an experiment? Lugosi and his gorilla companion travel by carriage through the fog-filled streets looking for women to kidnap and inject. After many failed attempts and dead subjects dumped into the river, Lugosi pins his hopes on an inspector’s girlfriend (Sidney Fox). Can her beau (Leon Ames) save her in time?
This loose adaptation tosses out all the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, revealing the killer and inventing a motive pretty early in the screenplay. Ames and Fox’s characters are dreadfully bland, but Lugosi is reliably charismatic (and sporting a creepy unibrow). For wide and medium shots, the gorilla is performed quite convincingly by an actor in a suit. The effect is marred only by close-up inserts of a real chimpanzee — clearly not the same species. The film mostly works as a monster movie of sorts, but suffers from the lack of mystery and other missed opportunities for dramatic storytelling, like the gorilla’s King Kong-like affection for Fox’s character.
It’s an uneven ride, but Murders in the Rue Morgue certainly has its moments. It opens and closes strong, and director Robert Florey creates some nice, spooky atmosphere between the carnival and foggy Paris sets. The sequence in which Lugosi ties a screaming victim (Arlene Francis) to a cross and injects her with the gorilla’s blood was reportedly removed from many prints. Indeed, it’s pretty terrifying for its time.