Murders in the Rue Morgue is a lesser known title featuring Lugosi when comparing it to his venerable portrayal of Count Dracula or even Murder Legendre in 1932's White Zombie - perhaps his role as a gypsy, albeit a small one, in The Wolf Man is more recognizable. As classic as some of these characters were, it was that mysterious Count from Transylvania that forever cemented his name in the horror hall of fame.
Murders in the Rue Morgue is based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story. It recalls the tale of a time in the mid-1800's where a man by the name of Dr. Mirakle captures young women and injects them with the blood of an ape in order to create a mate alongside his pet sideshow, Erik. A young girl, L'Espanaye, is targeted by Mirakle while her fiancee Pierre Dupin pieces together a trail of bodies as a result of a sinister plot.
One might scoff at the idea that a talented eye for cinematography existed in the early days of the movie business with such a limited palette but if you've taken the time to study each scene in classic titles like Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari from 1920 or even 1922's Nosferatu (a precursor to Dracula), both exhibit a fantastic glimpse of film noir. Karl Freund, a well-known and respected cinematographer, made excellent use out of this method after studying film in Berlin in the early 1900's - Freund can be credited with various artistic endeavors in the industry, most notably his work on Dracula and of course, Murders in the Rue Morgue. Freund's perfected his craft as a result of the German Expressionist movement that occurred after World War I, with the use of serious black and white tones that set the stage for a range of emotions; Murders in the Rue Morgue looks gorgeous because of this tremendous feature.
Lugosi, supported by a small cast of characters, help shape Murders in the Rue Morgue but doesn't make a lasting impression. Dr. Mirakle was Lugosi's first role after Dracula and already we witness various similarities between the two characters. It is enjoyable to view him as a more conniving individual with an untamed mane of hair in this feature as opposed to the clean cut and evil appearance he portrayed as a vampire. This film's run-time is about an hour long but the pace drags on much too slowly for my liking - naturally, the bulk of Poe adaptations are cut down and hacked to pieces. This process is understandable to a degree but I believe that certain characters deserved to be fleshed out more and certain elements of the plot explored more in depth. Like most films of this era, the ending happens so suddenly without the usual build-up that you'd expect from modern movies. Without an intriguing plot and an award-winning performance by anyone involved, this just adds to the bland after-taste I received when Murders in the Rue Morgue reached its conclusion. I can't stress enough how wonderful the quality of film is, so it makes it difficult to score this film lowly.
There are audiences that exist today that simply can't grasp the importance or don't share the same appreciation for the great horror classics as fans of the genre do but even if you don't know Bela Lugosi's name (his screen name, that is) or his life story, mostly anyone will agree that he's at the top. It's both sad and unfortunate that due to typecasting, coupled with a drug addiction to opiates, Lugosi's career in Hollywood was relegated to B-grade features as Universal Studios changed management in the late 30's. More importantly, however, was that his thick Hungarian accent disabled him from playing diverse roles, essentially categorizing him as a "horror guy" with parts that closely resembled one another. A depiction of his life can be seen in Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood, a comedic yet informative look of Lugosi's life beyond the cape.
Bela Lugosi died in 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 73. Reportedly, several other icons in the business were at his funeral, particularly Boris Karloff (despite popular belief the two men were not rivals), Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price. According to Vincent Price, written in his autobiography, he claims that while looking at the casket, Lorre commented to him, "Should we drive a stake through his heart, just in case?"