A Tired Adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tale Starring Jason Robards

Gordon Hessler’s 1971 Murders In The Rue Morgue is a plodding, old-fashioned tale of horror inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s original story. Jason Robards and Herbert Lom star in this AIP film that didn’t do particularly well at the box office. Having heard so much about it from knowledgeable critics, the film moves with tedious pacing and boring action. This is a twisting murder mystery with little atmosphere and little genuine suspense.

Set in early 20th Century Paris, Murders in the Rue Morgue takes Poe’s original tale by framing it as a stage play being performed by an actual theater troupe. A masked killer begins to kill the players one by one. Cesar Charron (Jason Robards) owns and operates the Rue Morgue Theatre, a theatrical company that specializes in Grand Guignol-style entertainment. The star of his show is his wife Madeleine (Christine Kaufmann). She suffers recurring nightmares as they stage Poe’s original story as a play.

… a messy thriller that runs far too long at nearly 100 minutes.

Her recurring nightmares prove to be an ominous prediction of the future when Cesar’s actors start turning up dead, killed with acid by someone in a mask. Cesar suspects that the murders are the work of his old nemesis, René Marot (Herbert Lom). The only problem is that Marot died several years ago. Several complicating factors are introduced that only make Murders in the Rue Morgue a messy thriller that runs far too long at nearly 100 minutes.

The period film is ambitious as it hopes to expand well beyond anything seen in Poe’s famous work. Sadly, that ambition results in a sloppy, dull narrative with wooden acting by usually steady actor Jason Robards. Robards had a long and successful acting career, but this movie is not one of his finer moments. He doesn’t seem fully invested in the role, which is damning for his character, the main protagonist. Christine Kaufmann isn’t much better as Madeleine, the woman suffering nightmares that seem to portend the future. She has limited presence in the role as the young woman at the supposed center of this mystery.

Murders in the Rue Morgue feels stuck in a different era than other Seventies thrillers and horror films. The entire tone treats the material with far more respect than it deserves and forgets the most important part of any good thriller. This is an older, plodding method of storytelling that feels plucked from a boring stage play. As the bodies pile up, its mystery fizzles.

Movie ★★☆☆☆

Murder in the Rue Morgue Blu-ray screen shot 2

Scream Factory releases Murders in the Rue Morgue in a double-feature set with The Dunwich Horror. They share a BD-50. For those keeping score, this is the first time the movie has hit Blu-ray anywhere in the world.

The AIP film has been licensed from MGM in a satisfactory film transfer from suitable elements. The 98-minute main feature is encoded in AVC and presented in 1.78:1. Incidental damage occurs to the otherwise stable, steady film print. Excellent black levels and a consistent contrast are held back by the pedestrian color saturation. Average definition and clarity represent an older transfer done from secondary film elements. This is not the sharpest video possible but it does look film-like in its character.

Scream Factory has greatly improved in their AVC compression the past year and this movie shows no compression problems, easily rendering the light grain structure. Shadow delineation is fairly deep for this type of film stock and vintage. There isn’t much depth or pop to the older film transfer. It looks rather typical for an MGM-licensed genre film released on Blu-ray.

Video ★★★☆☆

The mono soundtrack comes in a fine, clear 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Dialogue is completely intelligible with perfect fidelity. It isn’t the biggest or most active older soundtrack, expect a relatively sedate listening experience akin to a typical drama. Expect a serviceable audio experience that gets the job done but does not impress.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Scream Factory brings over all the special features found on MGM’s older DVD and includes a new commentary.

Audio Commentary With Author and Film Historian Steve Haberman – This new solo commentary is done in much the same tone and style as found on his commentary for The Dunwich Horror. He obviously has prepared something and sounds like he’s reading off of Wikipedia at times. That does give a lot of useful information, but it almost feels like listening to an audio book. It’s a bit stiff to hear in one sitting.

Theatrical Trailer (02:52 in upscaled HD)

Stage Tricks and Screen Frights (11:39 in upscaled HD) – The sole featurette found on MGM’s DVD, this is an older interview with director Gordon Hessler on his movie and its problems. He goes over how AIP recut the movie behind his back and other interesting things that went on behind the scenes.

Extras ★★☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our About Us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. The images have not been altered during the process.

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