APRIL 4, 2011
I really enjoyed director Gordon Hessler’s The Oblong Box, but walked out of his Scream and Scream Again, which played right after it at the Egyptian a while back. It wasn’t JUST the movie; the print was practically solid pink, and I was a bit tired. But it was kind of boring and disjointed as well, which is exactly the problem that plagues Murders In The Rue Morgue – was Oblong a fluke? I don’t recognize a damn thing on his filmography, so I have no sense of his output beyond these two and a half films.
Anyway, the main problem with Morgue is that there is no sense of how much time has passed between scenes. Some of the individual setpieces are fine (I quite like the cop chasing the killer on a merry-go-round), but there’s a puzzling lack of dread or tension to the film, due to the fact that I could never tell if the characters were even aware of the other events that have occurred, or if so much time had gone by that they had just gotten over it. Most of the characters are part of a theatre troupe, and throughout the film we see them putting on shows that usually go wrong – how do they keep attracting such large audiences, when it’s clearly dangerous to be associated with the place? Or was their production of “Rue Morgue” just sort of the “Turn Off The Dark” of its day, with folks showing up secretly hoping to see Spider-Man fall off a harness or something?
And yes, they are putting on “Rue Morgue” as a play – the movie itself doesn’t have much to do with Poe’s tale. Instead it’s just a more murderous/less romantic version of Phantom Of The Opera, and they even got Hammer’s Phantom (Herbert Lom) to play the disfigured killer, an actor named Rene Marot who is seeking revenge for the accident that left his face horribly scarred. Or he’s avenging the death of his woman, who was axed to death years ago. Or he’s just a jerk. Another major problem with the movie is that it’s needlessly convoluted, and can’t seem to even decide on a hero, let alone a central conflict. Jason Robards is ostensibly the movie’s main protagonist, but (spoiler) he gets killed with twenty minutes to go, and then the movie just keeps going (they even put on the play again, despite the lack of their main star AND director). It’s just too damn clunky for my tastes.
It doesn’t help that Robards seems bored out of his mind throughout the entire movie. Apparently he was replacing Vincent Price, who had abandoned AIP that year, but they should have replaced Robards too, as his detached performance does the movie no favors. Where was Robert Quarry? The most animated actor in the entire movie is the guy in the gorilla suit, who I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering if the character in the film was supposed to be an actual gorilla. Even when things turn sour during the performances, he always keeps his mask on, and never talks. He’s great!
Another odd thing about the movie is the sparse use of music. There’s a great stunt scene with the gorilla flying around trying to avoid the police, but it feels incomplete without accompanying score. And this was a restored “director’s cut” version of the movie (AIP cut it for its original release), so I have to assume it was an actual choice on Hessler’s part, or else he (or whoever was putting the film back together on his behalf) would have edited some score over these scenes.
Speaking of which, it’s just too long. I don’t know what was cut, so I can’t say for sure that AIP made the right call, but certainly 1-2 less nightmare scenes from Robards’ wife wouldn’t have hurt, and they could have cut some of the stuff with the creepy midget dude, because it comes across like they’re trying to suggest he might be the killer, when we know damn well that it’s the Phantom looking (and, no disrespect, normal heighted) guy. At 80 minutes this might have been at least an acceptably “meh” movie, but at nearly 100 it’s just a chore for the most part, with only the film’s colorful look and surprising number of murders (though they’re mostly out of frame or off-screen entirely) keeping me from checking out completely. Oh well, can’t love every AIP movie I see.
What say you?