I can't believe I never saw this film before. Weighing in at only 61 minutes, Murders in the Rue Morgue delivers a knock out punch from start to finish. First there's the amazing cinematography by Karl Freund [Metropolis, The Golem, Dracula] that is moody and atmospheric with beautifully painted backdrops and great lighting. Director Robert Florey also moves things along at a nice pace so that the movie never gets dull.
The second great thing about Murders in the Rue Morgue is Bela Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle. While Sidney Fox got top billing as rival scientist Camille L'Espanaye, it's Lugosi who dominates ever scene he is in. This is definitely one of his finest performances from the 1930's and his character leaps off the screen with enough craziness and creepiness to keep you glued to your seat. While the world's greatest unibrow is a bit overkill in the makeup department, somehow Lugosi makes this work for him. Combined with wild hair and those glaring eyes, Dr. Mirakle reminds us all why Lugosi is such an icon in the horror genre. [Surprisingly Jack Pierce did the make up. Not his best effort.] My favorite scene is when he dispatches a young lady toward the end of the film. It made me squirm a bit so I can only imagine how it affected audiences in his day. A powerful performance indeed!
The plot gets its start in the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. In the movie version, Dr. Mirakle kidnaps young women and injects them with ape blood in order to show the world how connected these two species are. [Don't ask questions, just go with it!] The only annoying part of this film is the constant switching back and forth between stock footage of an ape and a guy in an ape costume. Personally, they should have stuck with the ape costume. Most of the scenes the costumed ape is in are shot a little dark and obscured which makes the costume more believable. I think Freund and Florey could have pulled this one off without any shots of the real thing.
As a side note, Noble Johnson [King Kong, The Mummy] appears as "Janos the Black One, " Lugosi's assistant. Noble was an African-American movie actor and producer who got his start in the Silent Film era. This is quite a feat considering the times he lived in.
Do not miss this film. I think it stands as some of Lugosi's finest work and is a well crafted film. I rented this one form Netflix. The print was O.K. but nothing outstanding.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.