I seem to remember mentioning a cheesy horror flick involving Bela Lugosi and a baboon. Having no other topic at hand, I thought I’d try to write about it: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).
Full disclosure: I did not watch the whole movie. I didn’t even pay a whole lot of attention to the parts I did watch. For a horror movie based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, starring Bela Lugosi and featuring a killer ape, I found it to be a pretty dull movie.
According to the Guide on digital cable, the movie concerns Lugosi murdering women for his experiments with apes. They had me at Bela Lugosi, but mad scientist and murders (after all, they go together) sounded good too.
The picture opens during Carnival in Paris. Many revelers are having a wonderful time, including a beautiful girl, a handsome man and his not so handsome friend. They go into a side show where they meet Lugosi and the killer ape, although of course they don’t know it’s a killer at the time.
“It’s only a baboon,” comforts Handsome Man when Beautiful Girl is frightened. I don’t know if it was a baboon, a gorilla or an overgrown chimpanzee. I can’t even be sure whether it was an authentic animal or a guy in a suit. These days I suppose they would have faked something up with CGI, quite possibly having first indulged in a little research. I made him a baboon in the headline for alliterative purposes, but you probably guessed that.
I’d like to just say a word about Bela’s hair (I know it’s more proper to refer to him by his last name, but I just feel I want to call him Bela). It’s not the elegant, slicked back Dracula look we are used to. It’s wild, shaggy and almost curly. Like he used volumizing mousse instead of maximum hold gel, although I have no idea what hair products were available at the time this movie was made (I did not indulge in any research while writing this post. Sorry). As a theatre person myself, I have no problem with an actor mixing it up a little, changing appearance to serve the character. It was just a little disconcerting is all. He still has the scariest eyes in show business.
Do I really need to tell anybody that he meets Beautiful Girl and is immediately taken with her? When she gets too close to the cage and the baboon snatches her bonnet, Bela smoothly promises to send her a new one, what’s you address, my dear? Handsome Man blocks that gambit, but not to worry. Bela has at least one henchman who can follow Beautiful Girl home. Just in case anybody was worried that the mad scientist would not get her into his evil clutches eventually.
Apparently he has already had other women in his evil clutches. We only see him actually abduct one, but when the authorities find her dead body (did I need to include a spoiler alert that somebody dies in a movie with “Murders” in the title?), we learn that she is not the first. Soon Handsome Man is investigating the murders, something to do with something in their blood, while letting his Not So Handsome Roommate eat all the lunch.
I stopped paying attention about the time Beautiful Girl gets the new bonnet from Bela and doesn’t worry too much about how he found her, because it’s such a fetching piece of headgear. So I don’t really know how she gets into his evil clutches or even what his evil plan is (although I know it has something to do with blood). Naturally there is a dramatic climax involving the baboon getting loose and climbing all over the city, but like I said, not really watching by that time. I may yet go back and watch it again, paying more attention this time. Which may or may not be worth another blog post.
I never read the story the movie is based on. The next time I go to the library I’ll look for it. Not that I expect it to inform any subsequent viewings of the movie. Hollywood is famous for taking liberties with adaptations and never more so than when they attempt Poe. In their defense, Poe is a very literary writer. Perhaps I should watch a series of movies based on Poe stories, read the stories and write a doctoral thesis (I bet you thought I was going to say blog post). Do you suppose I could find a university that would give me a degree for that?