Friday, October 19, 2012


In early 20th century Paris, there has been a string of horrific killings of women; their rooms are broken into and smashed up by someone or something with brute force, the women left dead and bloody, but no belongings are taken. The only link (which we notice long before the police do) is that each woman was wearing a charm bracelet with tinkling bells. At first Inspector Bonnard suspects two young college students, but they have alibis in professors Dupin and Marais. Dupin theorizes that the killer is a sadistic schizophrenic; Marais has a theory about the killer instinct which he has observed in animal rats which are deprived and frustrated. There are more murders, and eventually Dupin, who attempted to chase the killer across the rooftops, is arrested. We know it's not Dupin, but we also know that there is a one-eyed thug who is caretaker to a dangerous ape which is kept in the private zoo of Dr. Marais. Could the respectable doctor be behind the murder spree? And could Dupin's girlfriend Jeanette be the next victim?

This thriller, first released in 3D, is loosely based on Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," generally considered to be the first detective story ever published. A few elements of the story are here, such as the murderous ape, the street name Rue Morgue, and the detail that witnesses to the crimes report hearing someone speaking in a foreign tongue. But the detective aspect of the story is largely neglected for an emphasis on gore and psychology. The murders are all quite brutal with lots of screaming and destruction. There are two standout scenes: one involves an attack on an artist's model in which not blood but red paint is spattered across her portrait just before she is killed; in the other, the killer smashes his way through a shop window and tears apart a mannequin thinking it's a real woman. The movie is very colorful and it looks like the 3D effects would be effective. The acting is not top-notch: Steve Forrest, quirkily handsome with blond hair and a thin mustache (pictured above), is OK as Dupin, Karl Malden is a bit better as Marais, though Patricia Medina is a zero as Jeanette. A very young Merv Griffin (at right) has a small role as one of the student suspects. This ignored thriller is worth a look. [TCM]

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