Saturday, January 7, 2017
THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET
Every so often I go on YouTube and see if I can find certain older films. YouTube is a great resource for film buffs--I've watched many titles on there for the very first time. Many of these titles shouldn't legally be on YouTube, so when I do find out that a certain film I've never seen before is available, I try to view it as soon as possible before it gets taken off.
I've seen almost all of the classic Universal thrillers made in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but there's a few that have fallen through the cracks. A few days ago I discovered that THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET was on YouTube. This is a 1942 film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's detective tale. Universal had by this time a long history with Poe--consider MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932), THE BLACK CAT (1934), and THE RAVEN (1935). All of those films either starred Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff, and they were designed to be out-and-out horror movies.
THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, however, truly is a mystery tale. Despite the Universal-Poe connection, the story is very typical of other B movie detective outings of the same period. The cast doesn't feature Karloff, or Lugosi, or Atwill, or Zucco....heck, there's not even an appearance by either Holmes Herbert or Halliwell Hobbes.
The movie is set in 1889 Paris (instead of the 1840s as in Poe's tale). The entire city is obsessed with the disappearance of musical stage star Marie Roget (Maria Montez). The body of a young woman has been found, with the face horribly mutilated. The body is presumed to be that of Marie Roget's, but the woman herself returns. Police Medical Examiner Paul Dupin (Patrick Knowles) is intrigued by the case, but his investigation becomes even more complicated when Roget disappears again, and another body turns up.
In Poe's original tale the detective "hero" was C. Auguste Dupin (the character also appeared in the author's stories "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter"). In the film THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, Patric Knowles plays Paul Dupin. This Dupin is officially connected to the police department, and it is mentioned a number of times that he was responsible for solving the case of the murders in the Rue Morgue. In Universal's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, Pierre Dupin, played by Leon Ames, was a medical student and did solve the case in that film....so one could put forth the idea that THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET is a kind of sequel to MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, except for the fact that the two movies are set about forty years apart.
The Dupin in THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET is an unflappable sort of fellow, a man who relies on scientific fact. His sidekick is Police Prefect Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan). Being that he is a Prefect, one assumes that Gobelin is Dupin's superior, but there's no doubt that in this film Dupin is the alpha male of the duo. Dupin basically does whatever he wants during his investigations, including breaking into a morgue late at night to perform a post-mortem. Gobelin is a blustery, reactionary fellow, and you can't help but think of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson when watching Dupin and Gobelin. (The main difference is that Rathbone and Bruce were more accomplished actors than Knowles and Corrigan.) It was during the making of THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET that Universal started producing their Sherlock Holmes series with Rathbone and Bruce. One has to wonder if Universal was thinking of starting a series of Poe movies featuring Dupin & Gobelin.
Patric Knowles was one of those male actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood who always seemed to play the second lead. Knowles appeared in a number of Errol Flynn movies as Flynn's buddy, but THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET was one of his very few starring roles. Monster fans are aware that Knowles also starred in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Knowles is good, solid, and handsome as Dupin, but the character (in this film at least) doesn't have any of the usual quirks that most B movie detectives had, and therefore there isn't anything that makes him stand out.
Maria Montez gets lead billing as Marie Roget, even though her actual screen time is rather small. Marie Roget is presented in the film as a flirty heartbreaker, and while Montez is attractive, she never puts over the idea that Roget is the toast of all Paris. We do get to see Marie Roget sing a unmemorable song (according to internet sources Montez was dubbed). Maria Ouspenskaya plays Marie Roget's grandmother, and she provides what little "Universal Monster" atmosphere the story has.
THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET was directed by Phil Rosen, a man who spent most of his career making similar B movies--he helmed a number of Charlie Chan features, and he even directed the Bela Lugosi-East Side Kids flick SPOOKS RUN WILD. MARIE ROGET clocks in at 60 minutes, and there's nothing about it, other than the Poe connection, that makes it stand out from the dozens of other low-budget movie mysteries made around the same time. There's only two murders, and we don't get to see them committed. There's very few suspects, and the murderer is pretty easy to figure out. The climax does feature an okay rooftop chase (ironically MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE had a rooftop chase ending as well).
With the combination of Edgar Allan Poe and Universal, one expects much more from THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET. It does need to be said that Poe's original story is not easy to make a great film from (of course that didn't stop Roger Corman and Richard Matheson from adapting several similar Poe tales successfully). The other Poe-Universal movies--MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, the 1934 THE BLACK CAT, and THE RAVEN had a pre-code expressionistic wildness to them. MARIE ROGET is acceptable B movie fare, nothing more. I have to say that Universal wasted a chance to make THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET one of the better 1940s thriller offerings.