It’s the first night after the regular season for BCB After Dark: the sweetest spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad you could join us this evening. We’re going to take it easy this month and just enjoy the show without the Cubs. Come on in. There’s no cover charge. There are still a few tables available. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last week I kind of threw a firecracker into the bullpen when I asked you if Cubs manager David Ross should be fired if the Cubs didn’t make the playoffs. As you know, the Cubs fell short of the postseason and 57 percent of you think Ross should get his walking papers because of that. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s a good indication of what you all are thinking right now.
As always, this is where I play the music and talk about the movies. You are welcome to skip that if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Tonight we have four numbers from a concert this past January at the Blue Note in New York by saxophonist Marcus Strickland. Joining him are Charles Haynes on drums, Kyle Miles on bass and Mitch Henry on keyboards.
It’s October, so I guess that means I should be watching horror pictures? I’m not really much for the modern serial-killing slasher films or whatever they are making these days. But I do watch older horror films and I’m a particular fan of the Universal pre-code monster films and I have been since I was a kid and would watch them on the Saturday night horror show on an independent Milwaukee television station. But I’ve seen all the big-name ones and most of their sequels, so I was excited to see that the Criterion Channel is airing a “pre-code horror” block this month that doesn’t have any of the Dracula, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Mummy or Wolfman films—presumably because Comcast/Universal has them on their own Peacock channel.
So I took some time to watch Bela Lugosi starring in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. And hoo boy, let me tell you that film is something. The short story that it is based on is pretty ridiculous and the screenplay, by Tom Reed and Dale Van Every, makes a silly story even stupider. Lugosi is at his most hammy and, unlike his portrait of Dracula, he speaks quickly and excitedly. This makes his thick Hungarian accent much harder to understand than the deliberate-speaking Count was. And lead actress Sidney Fox and actor Leon Ames (credited under his real name of Leon Wycoff) aren’t much better. The film lacks a lot of the campy awareness that other horror films of the era—such as director Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X and Mysteries of the Wax Museum—use so deftly to give the film a sense of fun. Fox allegedly got the part over Bette Davis because she was the mistress of Producer (and son of the studio boss) Carl Laemmle Jr. While I’m sure it was a blow to the struggling Davis at the time, I’m sure she looked back on it and thought she dodged a bullet.
Still, director Robert Florey does a really good job of keeping the level of creepiness moving and legendary cinematographer Karl Freund does a masterful job inserting the look of German Expressionism into the film. The sinister shadows and odd angles make this a terrific film to look at. On top of that, whoever was in charge of the set and production design deserved an award. Paris never looked so ghoulish. Does this save the film? Oh, heck no, but it does make it at least watchable. So if you’re really interested in pre-code horror or Lugosi’s “mad scientist” career, then it’s worth checking out. It’s also only an hour long, which was a big reason I decided to watch it first among the pre-code horror collection.
The Poe short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue” actually has an important place in literary history as it is considered to be the first example of modern detective fiction. Written in 1841, the word “detective” had not even been invented yet. Poe’s hero, Auguste Dupin, solves the mystery of the murders through evidence and deduction, something that would be copied endlessly by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and others in the genre.
I’ve never read Poe’s short story, but my English teacher wife has and from her description and from the summaries that I’ve read, the entire story seems like nonsense. The film that is based on it uses pretty much one scene from the story and then builds a story around it that is even more balderdash.
The movie adds the character of Dr. Mirakle (pronounced mir-ACK-el), which is one of the first of many “mad scientist” characters played by Lugosi. Coming off of the massive hit of Dracula the year before, Universal was eager to get Lugosi back on the screen in a horror picture as quickly as possible. As Universal had been working on an adaptation of Poe’s short story previously, it seemed like a quick fix to add in a villian played by Lugosi.
Mirakle thinks of himself as a scientist, although he working as a sideshow act in a travelling carnival in Europe. But his act is that he’s taught himself how to speak gorilla and he controls his gorilla, named Erik, by talking to him in his own language.
OK, if you want to stop reading here, I don’t blame you. Because it gets more ridiculous.
Anyway, behind the scenes, Mirakle is trying to merge the blood of a gorilla with the blood of a human female. Why? I don’t know. I think because he’s trying to make a race of gorilla/human hybrids. Mirakle may have said why and I just missed it in Lugosi’s thick accent. I decided it wasn’t worth trying to figure it out.
The first woman he tries this on is a prostitute that he picks up off the street. But she fails to survive the process, which Mirakle attributes to her not having a pure enough heart. That’s where Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye (Fox) comes in, who is engaged to marry Pierre Dupin (Ames). Mirakle spends much of the movie trying to entice Camille to a place where he can capture her and mix her blood with the blood of a gorilla.
As you can tell, this story is the biggest load of baloney that you’d ever want to watch. But, director Florey and cinematographer Freund make this a creepy film to watch. The first victim, the unnamed prostitute (played by future game-show fixture Arlene Francis), is basically crucified as she dies screaming, tied to a cross as Mirakle injects her with gorilla blood. While we do get a close-up of Francis dying at the end (gruesome by the standards of 1932), much of the scene plays as shadows against a wall. And the film ends with the gorilla (or more accurately, a man in a gorilla suit) carrying Camille across the rooftops of this seedy section of Paris, more than a year before Fay Wray would get similarly manhandled by a giant gorilla in King Kong. (Although Kong is a much more sympathetic ape than Erik is here.) It’s all very well-done for such a silly plot.
You can see those creepy atmospherics in this scene where Mirakle kidnaps the prostitute after she witnesses a big fight in which both participants were killed. Were they fighting over her? I dunno. Maybe. But here she gets abducted by the sinister Mirakle.
There also appear to be a couple of uploads of the complete film on YouTube if you are interested. Florey was more of a journeyman director (who didn’t speak English, if you believe Groucho Marx), but Freund is legendary as a cinematographer and he does terrific work here getting this story to look great on film, no matter how ridiculous it is.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and cinema.
This week starts out easy for me. The hardest part of this feature is coming up with a new poll question every night. But with the playoffs upon us, I can just ask “Who ya got?”
So tell me, who is going to win the National League Championship Series and advance to the World Series? And tell us your reasoning down in the comments.
Who will win the NL Pennant?
This poll is closed
Los Angeles Dodgers
Unless some news breaks before tomorrow, I’ll ask you about the American League next time.
Thank you so very much for stopping by this evening. The baseball season may end but the shows go on. Please recycle any cans and bottles. If you checked anything, let us get that for you now. Get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.