PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE (1954) is Warner Bros.' 3-D follow up to their hit HOUSE OF WAX. The film is based on Poe's famous tale "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", but, as expected, several liberties are taken with the source material.
In 1890s Paris, a mysterious fiend is brutally murdering a number of young attractive women. A few clues lead the Inspector on the case (Claude Dauphin) to charge Professor Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest) with the crimes. Dupin, however, is being set up by an associate, Dr. Marais (Karl Malden). Marais is a zoologist and a psychologist, and he has trained a gorilla to kill on his command. The victims had rejected Marais in some way, and the madman has his eyes on Dupin's love (Patricia Medina). The gorilla winds up taking the woman up on the rooftops of Paris, while the police try to track them and Marais down.
I watched this movie thru my TCM cable app, and, needless to say, it was not in 3-D. Would I have enjoyed it better if it had been? I doubt it, since I'm not much of a 3-D fan. For me, the main interest here was the fact that it was one of the very few Gothic horror tales made by a major American studio in the early 1950s, and in color, no less.
For a Hollywood movie made in this period, PHANTOM is quite brutal--we even get to see some blood streaks on the bodies of the victims, and the movie leaves no doubt that they have been horribly attacked. Jonathan Rigby has pointed out in his book that this film is a precursor to the much more violent horror thrillers of the 60s and 70s, where gorgeous women were killed in various spectacular and bloody ways. The incident in Poe's story of a woman's corpse being stuffed up a chimney is even used here. (Mario Bava would have had a field day with PHANTOM'S scenario.)
The problem is the story bogs down very quickly with several "police official investigating the murders" scenes that just seem to kill time. There's an attempt to inject some atmosphere with such elements as can-can girls, a knife throwing act, acrobats, and Apache dancers, but you're still never convinced that this is supposed to be Paris. The main reason is that, other than Claude Dauphin, all the other actors come off as non-French as possible. (A very young Merv Griffin, of all people, has a small role here as a Parisian university student.)
Karl Malden gives a very hammy and nervy performance as Dr. Marais. Malden was a fine character actor, but he's not at all suited to play a Bela Lugosi-John Carradine type of role. Marais has plenty of hangups with the opposite sex, due to his relationship with his late wife. The doctor keeps a mini-shrine to his wife in his house, complete with a large portrait of the woman (which looks just like Patricia Medina). This plot point of a mentally disturbed man obsessed with a dead wife would be used in most of the later Poe adaptations made by American-International Pictures.
Director Roy Del Ruth (a long-time Warners veteran) uses plenty of 3-D gimmicks, the main one being females in danger screaming at the camera in extreme close-up. Charles Gemora, who played the ape in Universal's 1932 MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, does the honors again here. The gorilla suit this time is quite impressive--it's much better looking than the ones used in many 1930s-40s poverty row flicks. The climax of the gorilla making off with Patricia Medina isn't as exciting as it should be, mainly due to the fact that the creature appears to be lugging around a mannequin.
PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE doesn't have much of a reputation now (Jonathan Rigby is one of the few genre experts who has written about it). It's much darker than HOUSE OF WAX, and it doesn't have a real horror star like Vincent Price. I much prefer the 1932 MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, and I would even say that AIP's 1971 MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is better.