Cast & Crew
Roy Del Ruth
In Paris, in the 1890s, Police Inspector Bonnard is stymied by a brutal killing on the Rue Morgue. Three months later, Yvonne, a cabaret performer, is killed in a fashion similar to the Rue Morgue murder. Police find a bracelet with tinkling bells on Yvonne's arm, and in her room, photographs of her jealous stage partner Rene and her boyfriend, university student Georges Brevert. One of Bonnard's men notes that the bracelet's clasp, once locked, cannot be opened, and is meant as a symbol of eternal love. When neighbors claim they saw the shadow of a man escaping over the roof, Bonnard suspects the athletic Rene, until a spurned and jealous wardrobe mistress inadvertently provides him with an alibi while trying to prove his guilt. Bonnard then turns his attention to Brevert, but Sorbonne psychology professor Paul Dupin and Dupin's fiancée and laboratory assistant, Jeannette Rovere, provide Brevert with an alibi. Dupin introduces Bonnard to a fellow professor, a guest lecturer from the zoo, Dr. Marais, who trains mice to respond to bells and has theories about the killer instinct in animals. Later, a mysterious assailant enters an apartment through a rooftop window and kills a painter's model, Arlette, who wears a tinkling bracelet exactly like Yvonne's. In their search for a strong and agile suspect, Bonnard and his men check out circus performers, but evidence points back to Dupin when they find a cameo in Arlette's room, which he claims was bought for Jeannette and stolen from his apartment. At the university, Marais lectures about an unresponsive deaf-mute named Marie, who turned hostility inward after suffering her husband's rejection. Later, Camille, a young woman living in Dupin's boardinghouse, is killed, and the police capture Dupin on the roof. Dupin protests that he was chasing the killer, but when the police find other incriminating evidence, Bonnard arrests him and refuses to believe that someone is framing him. As with the other victims, Camille is found wearing a bell charm. Still baffled by the killer's ability to escape from the victims' apartments, Bonnard hires a circus acrobat to find a means of escape from Arlette's room. When the acrobat fails, Dupin suggests to the incredulous Bonnard that the killer is an animal. Later at a waterfront dive, Jacques, a brute who labors for Marais, kills a sailor who teases him about an ape he brought from Malta. Meanwhile, Marais offers Jeannette a job studying the behavior of animals in the zoo and introduces her to a caged ape that responds to her show of affection. After she leaves, Jacques and Marais discuss how the ape accidentally killed the first victim on the Rue Morgue, but has since been trained by Marais to kill at his behest. Jacques taunts Marais by saying that Jeannette will reject him, just like the other women Marais had the ape kill. In his house on the zoo grounds, Marais finds Jeannette studying a portrait of his late wife, who he claims committed suicide. Urging her to forget Dupin, Marais kisses Jeannette, but she cringes. Then, realizing that the portrait shows fear in Mrs. Marais' eyes, Jeannette correctly guesses that bars on the windows of the room were meant to imprison the woman, not keep her safe from zoo animals. At Jeannette's rejection, Marais becomes resentful, but gives Jeannette a tinkling bracelet, claiming that it is from Dupin. Seeing Marais' hostility, Jeannette has another insight, that he, like Marie, has developed a neurosis in response to rejection. After locking Jeannette in the bedroom, Marais proceeds to the ape's cage, but the animal has killed Jacques and escaped. As Marais searches, the ape breaks into a dressmaker's shop and kills the proprietress. Meanwhile, at the police station, Bonnard wants Dupin to sign a pre-written confession, but Dupin, seeing the victims' bracelets on his desk, recalls how Marais trained his mice with bells. He suggests that Marais could train an ape in the same way, but Bonnard refuses to consider the theory. Then, a policeman reports the dressmaker's murder and brings in witnesses who saw the ape and a well-dressed man go down a manhole near the crime scene. Bonnard, Dupin and several policemen race to the zoo and Marais' home, where Marais has sent the ape to break into the bedroom window and kill Jeannette. Although the bracelet on her arm tinkles, the ape gently carries the fainted Jeannette out of the room, to the roof and into a tree. Seeing the police, Marais releases a lion from its cage, but the police shoot it, grab Marais and set up a safety net. Marais orders the ape to kill, but instead, it drops Jeannette onto the net. When the police then shoot the ape, it kills Marais in the fall to its death. Later, at the station, Bonnard cuts the bracelet off Jeannette's arm and closes the case.
Roy Del Ruth
The Flying Zacchinis
Mary Lou Holloway
J. Peverell Marley
Maurice De Packh
James R. Webb
Phantom of the Rue Morgue
Synopsis: In 1890s Paris, a woman on a rain-soaked street runs toward the camera screaming that there has been a murder in the Rue Morgue. Police Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin) pegs the murder as a crime of passion because of its brutal nature and because no personal items were stolen. Three months later, we see a cabaret show in which knife-thrower Rene (Paul Richards) narrowly misses injuring his partner Yvonne (Allyn McLerie), with whom he has been arguing. They quarrel over Yvonne's relationship with University student Georges Brevert (played by radio announcer-turned-actor Merv Griffin, before he embarked on his lengthy career as a singer, talk show host and television mogul). Yvonne, who wears a bracelet with small tingling bells, is brutally murdered in the same fashion as the Rue Morgue victim. Neighbors witness an agile figure escaping by rooftop, leaping from roof to roof. Bonnard cannot pin the crime on Brevert because he is given an alibi by his friends, psychology professor Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest) and his fiancée Jeanette Rovere (Patricia Medina). Dupin introduces his colleague, Dr. Marais (Karl Malden), a guest lecturer from the zoo who experiments with mice and other animals (including a huge gorilla) to find ways to trigger the "killer instinct" he feels is basic to all creatures. As more young women turn up torn apart by the rooftop "Phantom," evidence is found that points to Dupin's guilt.
Warner Bros. executives seemingly had a checklist of all of the elements that went into House of Wax, so that they might hit upon the same combination of ingredients for their new film. House of Wax was a remake of the earlier Warners horror hit Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933); similarly, Phantom of the Rue Morgue was based on a story that also formed the basis of a previous horror film from the early 1930s, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), starring Bela Lugosi. Like House of Wax, Phantom is a period horror filmed in WarnerColor and Naturalvision 3-D and features a crazed protagonist with a past, a befuddled police inspection, a villain's assistant who acts as a convenient red herring, several lovely ladies in distress, the stalwart boyfriend who takes on the case himself, and, of course several shock scenes.
One of the most talked-about scenes in House of Wax had nothing to do with the plot - it showed a barker outside the wax museum gathering a crowd by using a paddleball. The paddleball became an in-your-face gimmick for the 3-D camera, and the makers of Phantom of the Rue Morgue found their own straight-into-the-camera sequence in the form of a knife-throwing demonstration; at least this scene was more logically worked into the plot. The film features several other shots intended to show off the stereo cinematography, and they too are worked into the story. The police are in search of an agile murderer, so in an early scene they survey the talent appearing at a local carnival; this is a handy excuse to photograph trapeze artists and trampoline routines. Director Roy Del Ruth seems to devote more attention to these scenes than he does to the violent attack sequences, which are rather clumsily staged.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue was one of the last feature films in which Charles Gemora, the famous "Gorilla Man," donned his suit for the cameras. Gemora had designed suits and played gorillas in films dating back to 1928 and had played Erik the Gorilla in Murders in the Rue Morgue. By 1954 Gemora had cut back on performing and the majority of the strenuous gorilla scenes in Phantom of the Rue Morgue were done by stuntmen under Gemora's direction. Gemora made many refinements to his gorilla suit over the years, and the 1954 film featured the most expressive simian yet developed, with many innovative design touches, such as a belly appliance made of a water-filled rubber pouch that would realistically sway when in motion.
The critic for Variety noted that "murders and gory bodies abound in the Henry Blanke production, which gives fulsome attention to the bloody violence loosed by the title's phantom. The script follows the regulation horror lines in getting the Poe yarn on film and Roy Del Ruth's direction also is standard. [The] performances by Karl Malden, Claude Dauphin, Patricia Medina, Steve Forrest and the others fall into the same groove and none manages to rise above the material." The reviewer did add that "the 3-D color lensing by Peverell Marley is good, and puts the turn-of-the-century Paris scenes on display to full advantage."
Writing in the New York Times, critic A. H. Weiler was not kind to the film. He notes that the premise appeared in the 1932 Universal movie, but "...now, the Warner Brothers, who apparently hate to let sleeping killers lie, have rebuilt Mr. Poe's street of horrors, dressed it up for WarnerColor and three-dimensional presentation and dropped in a covey of bloody corpses and a pair of mental cases played by Karl Malden and a gorilla. The result...is proof that time has not worked wonders. The Warners have created a tame 'Phantom.'"
In advertising the film, Warner Bros. played coy with the nature of the menace. The ad art pictured a hairy humanoid figure, but not a gorilla; in fact, they muddy the issue by giving the "Phantom" a suit of clothes and a wristwatch! The copy screamed: "It mauls... it rips... it vanishes! A mammoth monstrous man-or-creature rising out of the depths beneath the city!" A secondary notice in the ads urged secrecy: "See it -- but don't reveal it! Let your friends feel for themselves the Phantom's full impact!" While full-blown anthropological studies of gorilla society were still some years away, the nineteenth-century notion of gorillas as brutal killers must have seemed more than old hat to audiences in 1954 -- the stuff of low-budget jungle adventures from a previous generation.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue was released in March of 1954, and all of the studios had cut back dramatically on the production of 3-D films. Nevertheless, two months later Warner Bros. released one more film in the format. Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) did not receive very many bookings in 3-D, but is now remembered as one of the most intelligent uses of stereo during the 3-D cycle of the 1950s.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Harold Medford, James R. Webb; Edgar Allan Poe (story)
Cinematography: J. Peverell Marley
Art Direction: Bertram Tuttle
Music: David Buttolph
Film Editing: James Moore
Cast: Karl Malden (Dr. Marais), Claude Dauphin (Insp. Bonnard), Patricia Medina (Jeanette), Steve Forrest (Prof. Paul Dupin), Allyn McLerie (Yvonne), Anthony Caruso (Jacques the One-Eyed), Veola Vonn (Arlette), Dolores Dorn (Camille), Merv Griffin (Georges Brevert), Paul Richards (Rene the Knife-thrower)
by John M. Miller
Phantom of the Rue Morgue
The famous "gorilla performer" Charles Gemora, who plays the gorilla, also played the gorilla in the original Universal version Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).
The working titles of the film were The Phantom Ape and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Opening title cards read: "Phantom of the Rue Morgue from Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.'" Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Fred Rapport, Frank McMahon, Larry Arnold and Johnny Clark. For other films based on Edgar Allan Poe's story, see the entry for the 1932 Universal production Murders in the Rue Morgue in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
Released in United States Spring March 1954
Remake of "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932) directed by Robert Florey.
Remade as "Phantom of the Rue Morgue" (1954) directed by Roy Del Ruth.
Released in United States Spring March 1954