The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe first edition
The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe, first edition, 1843

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Story, 1841
approx. 15,000 words
Notable lines
First line

The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects.

Great lines

"A madman," I said, "has done this deed—some raving maniac, escaped from a neighbouring Maison de Santé."

The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man is often remarkably incapable of analysis.

It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.

...our friend the Prefect is somewhat too cunning to be profound. In his wisdom is no stamen. It is all head and no body, like the pictures of the Goddess Laverna—or, at best, all head and shoulders, like a codfish.

Last lines

"I like him especially for one master stroke of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean the way he has 'de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas.'"

Murders in the Rue Morgue scene 1971

A disfigured Herbert Lom steals the 1971 Poe adaptation like a character from another horror tale.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

THE STORY | THE MOVIES: 1932, 1954, 1971, 1986

Murders in the Belle Époque

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971): Director Gordon Hessler; writers Christopher Wicking, Henry Slesar; featuring Jason Robards, Christine Kaufmann, Herbert Lom, Michael Dunn, Adolfo Celi

I wonder if the missing "The" in front of the title of the 1971 film Murders in the Rue Morgue is intentional. Indicating this is not an adaptation of the murder mystery by Edgar Allan Poe but a tale of some other murders in the same place?

For it hardly references Poe's famous short story of 1841 at all—except that the characters whose lives the film follows happen to be putting on a theatrical adaptation of the story about sixty years after the time of the story. The film opens with scenes of the drama as presented, without any indication that this is a play within the movie.

Watching the hammy acting and fake-looking effects of those first few minutes, at least one viewer was led to think this was one of the cheapest and worst movies ever filmed...until the camera pulled back to show the theatre audience. After that, I discovered it was just a middlingly bad movie. And not really a take on Poe's story at all.

Even those few minutes of the play didn't follow the Poe story much, featuring a beautiful damsel tied up, a dungeon of sorts and a beheading. There is a rampaging ape (obviously a man in a monkey suit), as in the story, but that's about the only connection.

The main story though follows a rather muddled plot, involving a disfigured man who is long thought to be dead but is running around Paris pouring acid on people close to his rival, the director and lead actor of the play. As the revengeful villain Rene, the Czech-English actor Herbert Lom, wearing a Phantom of the Opera-style mask, steals the focus from the putative lead, Cesar Charron, played by American acting great Jason Robards, and the woman they both love, the stage actress Madeline, played by German film actress Christine Kaufmann.

So much so that some critics said the film was more an adaptation of the novel The Phantom of the Opera than of the Poe story.

Meanwhile, Madeline, whose mother was the victim of an axe murderer, has recurring fantastic episodes involving a man wielding an axe and a body falling from the theatre's catwalk. Awake she is led into madman Rene's clutches by a gentleman dwarf (Michael Dunn).

Trailer for the 1974's Poe-free Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Also meanwhile, the police led by Inspector Vidocq (Italian actor Adolfo Celi, best known as an early James Bond villain) is investigating the acidic murders, with Cesar Charron as his top suspect. (Incidentally, there's a remote connection between this character and the Poe story: Poe's creation of his sleuth Dupin is thought to have been based in part on French criminologist Eugène-François Vidocq, credited as the first real-life private detective.)

Toward the end, with the fantasy scenes inter-cutting the supposedly real action and with repeated over-the-top plot twists, it becomes difficult to follow the story and accurately assess the relative guilts of the various parties.

Along the way though, we get a colourful experience of Paris of the Belle Époque, with carnivals, Can-can dancers, riotous brothels, and artists of all kinds running amuck—quite a change from the usual dark and noirish environments displayed in earlier-situated Poe stories.

Even the blood, of which there is plenty, is bright and garish.

All such fun, if you don't take it seriously. Not really Poe though.

— Eric

THE STORY | THE MOVIES: 1932, 1954, 1971, 1986