Friday, July 10, 2009
Day 169: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) - Rank 2/5
Going into "Murders in the Rue Morgue," I never expected the adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's short story to be stellar fun the way that the Roger Corman/Vincent Price adaptations are. However, I would have been more wary had I paid more attention to the director - Gordon Hessler. Hessler is not a terrible man of film. He brought "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" to life with Ray Harryhausen. But his two films preceding this - "Scream and Scream Again" and "Cry of the Banshee" really tested my patience, despite a near-swooning fandom for Vincent Price. Hessler also directed Price in "The Oblong Box" alongside Christopher Lee, which I have yet to see but undoubtedly will in this quest, despite the inevitable, lukewarm experience it will yield. Enough about Hessler...
No, more about him. I do have to give credit to Hessler here, because he decided to take a unique approach to "Murders in the Rue Morgue." Claiming that too many people were familiar with the twist ending of an ape's involvement, Hessler decided to set the film in a theater where the Poe piece is being performed as a play. During this time, members of the cast are bumped off one by one by a mysterious, masked figure. Herbert Lom is the murderer in question, with not a Clouseau in sight, for he is spurned lover Marot. His main target is to humiliate stage and cast manager Cesar Charron (Jason Robards), a man who had tried to steal his beloved from him. Now Cesar is married to his former lover's daughter...yeah...and Marot is back to woo her too now that she's of age. But not before he charms her by killing all her friends with a vitriol facial.
The premise had me hooked from the start (save the presence of the worst ape suit I've ever seen) and Lom and Robards weren't too bad. But then the plot started going in numerous directions at once (I'm reminded of the way insects skitter when you lift up a rock). Amongst all this was one dream sequence after the next. Yes, Corman would insert dream sequences as filler too, but he would stick to just one per movie. Not only that, but they were atmospheric and eerie (the nightmare from "Tomb of Ligeia" rivals the reoccurring visions from "Sybil" in the way of feline ghoulishness). These sequences are shot pretty standard and they just become boring and repetitious. About two-thirds in, the plot becomes really convoluted, and after being graced with a headache in the process, I wish Hessler had stuck to Poe's original story.