Bela Lugosi was a horror legend when he starred in 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, but he couldn’t stop the film from getting censored. Of course, the film was released just a year after the Hungarian actor’s breakthrough in Dracula. Perhaps this reputation shaped the censors to come down harder than necessary.
Universal’s Murders in the Rue Morgue is an extremely liberal adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe tale. The story centers around Doctor Mirakle (played by Lugosi), a carnival sideshow entertainer and scientist. He kidnaps Parisian women to mix their blood with that of his sideshow gorilla, Erik.
However, his experiments fail due to what he claims is the victims’ poor blood quality. Mirakle crosses paths with Camille L’Espanye (portrayed by Sidney Fox) and has her abducted, and her mother killed. This raises suspicion about Camille’s fiancé, Pierre Dupin (played by Leon Waycoff), a medical student who is already interested in the previous murders.
The story’s infamous killer reveal is about the only DNA the two share. Featuring investigator C. Auguste Dupin, many consider the tale the prototype of the detective story, seen in later characters like Sherlock Holmes. Regardless of the film’s shortcomings, it’s still a fun yarn anchored by the always scene-stealing Lugosi. He rants about taboo subjects like evolution and gleefully tortures a female victim at length.
What the 1930s Era MPA Censored Out of Bela Lugosi’s 1932 Film
As Collider points out, the censors weren’t too pleased with Murders of the Rue Morgue. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America chopped up some suggestive dancing scenes, some of Mirakle’s evolution references, and even the intense torture scene. They spared no mercy, eliminating the woman’s stabbing and any signs of her restrained position. And to top it off, they found the victim’s screams a tad bit too much, demanding the volume lowered.
Universal Monster lovers can’t help but wonder how much more Lugosi would shine in the film if not for these cuts. Bela was in his prime, flush with the success of Dracula. Seeing him unmuted at that stage in his career would be a treat.
However, this role marked the beginning of a series of similar roles in the Dracula legend. Lugosi went on to star in several more adaptations of Poe’s stories, including The Black Cat and The Raven, where he once again portrayed scientists. Lugosi also made appearances in other Poe-related works beyond the realm of film. For instance, he participated in an adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado” for the television series Suspense, and delivered a captivating radio performance of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
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