Saturday, March 26, 1977: Revenge of the Creature (1955) / Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Synopsis: In the Amazon, scientists Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and Jackson Foster (Grandon Rhodes) hire Brazilian launch owner Lucas (Nestor Paiva) to take them to the Black Lagoon, where a strange creature had been reported by an earlier expedition. The two men are determined to capture the creature and take it with them to civilization. They tell Lucas that the creature is a throwback — something that got caught outside the flow of evolution and is therefore of interest to them. But Lucas replies that the creature is stronger than evolution, and that they are foolish to try to take it from its home.

Soon after the men arrive they see the creature for themselves, and they rig a set of explosions in the water with hopes to stunning the creature and forcing it to the surface. The explosions are successful, as the unconscious creature floats to the surface along with many dead and stunned fish.

The expedition returns to Florida with the live creature and it becomes a resident of Marine Land, a forerunner to SeaWorld. The creature goes on display to eager sightseers as scientists try to learn more about it. Dr. Clete Ferguson (John Agar) plans to be in town for two weeks in order to study the creature. He meets ichthyology graduate student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), and immediately asks her out to dinner. The two test the intelligence of the creature, using fish in cage as a reward and a cattle prod to provide negative reinforcement. Ferguson concludes that the monster’s intelligence ranges between that of a chimpanzee and a dolphin.

The creature doesn’t like its imprisonment, and works on trying to break the chain that keeps it in its tank. Meanwhile, it spends a lot of time gazing longingly at Helen.

Eventually, the creature breaks the shackle that keeps it confined. On the loose it causes a panic, flipping over cars as it makes its way to the ocean.

As authorities hunt for the creature, Ferguson and Helen are concerned about the destruction it might cause. But what they don’t know is that the creature is hunting Helen and plans to take her back to his watery domain….

 Comments: Guillermo del Toro often cites Creature From the Black Lagoon as his inspiration for The Shape of Water, but it’s clear that Revenge of the Creature is really the template upon which del Toro’s film is based. After being dragged away from its underwater home in the Amazon, the creature in this opus is supposedly having its intelligence tested by scientists, led by John Agar. But the “tests” are really just obedience training, and seem to be an excuse to torment the monster with an electric cattle prod; one could imagine much better ways to gauge the monster’s intelligence. Meanwhile, the creature becomes smitten with Lori Nelson’s ichthyology grad student, who takes to the water in a white bathing suit clearly meant to evoke the one worn by Julie Adams in the first film (say what you want about Creech, you can’t fault his taste in women).

As was typical of sequels of this era, Revenge of the Creature was somewhat dumber and cheaper than its predecessor, though it benefits from having Jack Arnold return to the director’s chair. It’s pretty careless about plot holes: the creature is taken from the fresh-water Amazon but is somehow able to live in the saltwater aquarium, and later in the ocean. When it escapes from its enclosure, the PA announcer bellows “The Gill Man is loose! The Gill Man is loose! Get to your cars immediately!”, which would be the perfect words to shout if your goal was to incite a panic (unsurprisingly, panic ensues). After escaping, the creature is somehow able to track Helen Dobson to her motel, which is conveniently located right on the beach. Similarly, it later finds the restaurant she and Clete Ferguson have stopped at, which is also conveniently right on the water.

There’s little in the way of comic relief in this film, but one humorous scene is rather oddly shoehorned in, and often cited as the screen debut of future Hollywood star Clint Eastwood.

Revenge of the Creature wasn’t technically Eastwood’s first screen appearance. Earlier in the year he had a bit part in another Jack Arnold picture, Tarantula, as a fighter pilot giving the order to drop napalm on the target. He was mostly obscured by an oxygen mask and helmet, and in any case was only on screen for a few seconds. In Revenge of the Creature he gets an actual scene, as a lab assistant who complains to Dr. Ferguson that only three of the lab’s four caged rats are still in the enclosure with a common house cat. “It’s my considered opinion that rat number four is inside that cat,” he says authoritatively. A moment later he discovers the missing rat in the pocket of his lab coat.

It’s a puzzling scene. What are rats doing in a cage with a cat? How did one of the rats get into the lab assistant’s pocket? It’s not that funny a gag, and if anything it just makes Ferguson’s research staff look silly. It’s not really clear why this scene didn’t end up on the cutting room floor. The best guess I can make is that the producers were playing a bit to the teenagers who would be seeing the film, and in fact Eastwood seems to be playing the role as a bit of a hipster.

John Agar had also appeared in Tarantula, and seems to have taken the place of Richard Carlson as Jack Arnold’s leading man of choice. He lacks a lot of Carlson’s warmth, though, and winds up coming across as insincere and even a bit creepy. Agar appeared in a lot of genre films — westerns and science fiction, for the most part — and his career after Revenge of the Creature did not improve. Soon he’d be starring in independently-produced cheapies like The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), Invisible Invaders (1958) and Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962).

Lori Nelson appeared as the love interest in Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended (1955) but didn’t stay long in feature films, instead moving quickly over to television.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Synopsis:Medical student Pierre Dupin (Leon Waycoff) is at a carnival with his beloved Camille L’Espanaye (Sidney Fox). They enter the exhibit of Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) who has a gorilla named Erik. Mirakle claims to be able to speak Erik’s ancient simian language, then goes on to talk about his personal theories about evolution. At the end of his presentation he urges Camille to come closer to Erik, but when she does so Erik lunges at her, grabbing her and stealing her bonnet. Dr. Mirakle apologizes and tells her that if she gives him her address, he’ll send her a new one. Pierre is suspicious and tells her not to do so.

But Mirakle will not be deterred. He has Camille followed and gets her address anyway.

Meanwhile, the police are baffled by a series of prostitute killings, and we learn Dr. Mirakle is the culprit. Picking up streetwalkers and bringing them home, Mirakle injects them with gorilla’s blood, with the stated intention of finding out the “true connection” between humans and apes. But the blood of prostitutes is “dirty”, according to Mirakle; he needs a woman with pure blood. And so he plots to kidnap Camille and use her to prove his theory of human – ape kinship….

Comments: The stories of Edgar Allan Poe are justifiably famous, but they tend to be long on atmosphere and short on plot. For this reason, films based upon them take plenty of liberties. We’ve already seen what Hollywood did with The Raven and The Black Cat; and tonight we get to see what they make of “The Murders In the Rue Morgue”.

Like a lot of adaptations this one comes off better if you’ve never read the story it’s based upon. Understandably, a lot of changes had to be made in translation. But this adaptation is particularly distressing because it throws out everything that made the short story interesting and memorable.

That story – widely credited as the first detective tale – was published in 1841. It describes how a brilliant, penniless young man named C. Auguste Dupin solves a sensational double homicide that has baffled the Paris police department. The circumstances surrounding the murders are what we would describe today as a classic “locked-room” mystery: two women are found dead in their home, one nearly decapitated and the other beaten and strangled, her body pushed up the chimney by an enormously strong assailant. The door is locked from the inside, and the only windows the killer could have escaped from are nailed shut, also from the inside.

Dupin solves the mystery simply by applying his keen, disciplined mind to the problem, identifying and rejecting irrelevant clues and logically working his way through the facts until he arrives at the correct solution. That an amateur easily, almost effortlessly, solves this “insoluble” mystery is one thing. That he does so basically as a lark is quite another, and it makes C. August Dupin one of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters in literature.

But for the screen adaptation, the writers felt it was necessary to dismantle the elaborate puzzle-box that Poe had constructed and sand down the rough edges from their protagonist. Camille L’Espanayle is no longer one of the two murder victims. She has been pulled from the chimney, brought back to life, and transformed into Dupin’s girlfriend. Dupin (inexplicably renamed Pierre) is now a poor medical student, rather than an eccentric bohemian.

And the screenwriters, needing an antagonist, dreamed up a character named Dr. Mirakle, played with scenery-chewing zest by Bela Lugosi, an actor who was still basking in the success of the previous year’s Dracula. Mirakle’s motivations are shaky throughout — he seems to find Camille herself alluring, yet also wants her blood for his experiments proving human-ape kinship. This all figures (or is supposed to figure, somehow) into his theories of evolution. That Darwin’s On the Origin of Species would not be published until 1859 is apparently ignored. And why not? Mirakle’s motive doesn’t make sense anyway.

Lugosi is at least amusing as Dr. Mirakle; the same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the other principles. Leon Waycoff’s Dupin is an insufferable and ineffectual dullard, only a pale shadow of Poe’s creation. Diminutive leading lady Sidney Fox is certainly cute, but sweetness seems to be the only quality she can project.
As for Erik the gorilla, we get a man in a suit for the distant shots, and a chimpanzee for the close-ups. Movie audiences were much more forgiving — or, perhaps, much less discerning — in those days.

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