Monday, January 24, 2011


There is no monster, nor is there any supernatural or paranormal menace. But there are two very sinister humans-- one who murders and mutilates beyond recognition the faces of two women; another who is a greedy, amoral sociopath whose disembodied brain (stolen from the Paris morgue in the middle of the night) is ruled as pathological by an examining criminologist. And there's also a ton of nighttime gothic gaslight atmosphere that makes the movie interesting to look at (even though it's not that great to watch). So while there are others who will complain that THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET is just a murder-mystery that has gotten a lot of hot-air horror-film hype over the years, I'm going to say that it is a very minor Universal horror film that would satisfy those viewers who can tolerate a weird mystery or two every once in a while in their monster-movie diet.

Paris, 1889: Hot-ticket Comédie-Française warbler Marie Roget (Maria Montez) has been missing for a week and half, prompting all of Paris (it seems) into speculation that she's either run off with one of her lovers or fallen victim to foul play. Minister of Naval Affairs Henri Beauvais (John Litel), an intimate friend of the Roget family (especially of Marie's, it turns out), pressures Prefect of Police Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan) to solve the case. Gobelin calls on his pal, police forensic chemist Dr Paul Dupin (Patric Knowles), for help. Dupin is famous for having solved the ghastly Rue Morgue murders some years back, and he agrees to help out just as word comes that a horribly disfigured corpse of a young woman has been dragged out of the Seine.

San Mateo[CA] Times, August 16, 1958

Things get cluttered and confusing quickly from there: Dupin is hired by the cantankerous Roget matriarch (Maria Ouspenskaya) to bodyguard Marie's stepsister Camille (Nell O'Day, almost looking like a monochrome Gillian Anderson in a few shots) at a swanky party; Camille's sketchy fiancé Marcel Vigneaux (Edward Norris) lurks around and muddies the water a bit; Marie disappears again; Beauvais threatens and blusters and looks suspicious; Madame Roget's pet leopard is accused of mauling the faces of the dead women; and Dupin and Gobelin argue about who and what is behind it all.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston, WV, May4, 1958

To be honest, the mystery doesn't work at all-- none of it makes a lot of sense when the movie is over and you try to figure out some of the basics (like motive). This is frustrating since the movie is very talky in parts as Dupin (as Sherlock Holmes) and Gobelin (as a cross between Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade) work through various scenarios in their efforts to solve the case, yet the solution still leaves a lot of unanswered questions: with all the yammering that these two do, why didn't they also have a conversation that ties up all the loose ends of the case instead of introducing more complications? So, as a viewer in search of maximum enjoyment, it's probably just best to kick back and go along for the ride.

Viewers would be less forgiving, I suspect, if not for the impressive work of director of photography Woody Bredell. Bredell did good, textured cinematography for BLACK FRIDAY, THE MUMMY'S HAND, HORROR ISLAND, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, MAN MADE MONSTER, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, as well as the very visually-interesting films noirs THE KILLERS, PHANTOM LADY, and THE UNSUSPECTED. The night scenes in THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET (and there are a lot of them) are really well-done and must have worked wonderfully on late-night SHOCK! television. Whatever horror movie ambiance is in this movie comes from Bredell and he does a helluva job that these screen-caps can't even begin to illustrate. (Perhaps someday soon this title will turn up as a Universal manufactured-on-demand DVD-R like HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES [1940] recently did and I can finally throw away my murky bootlegs.)

One of the many mysterious nocturnal comings and goings in the garden during Du Lac's party

Lots of coaches zipping through the wet, cobble-stoned streets of Universal's European village set

The cloaked killer escaping across the Paris rooftops in the dead of night

Armed with the Edgar Allan Poe pedigree for this tale, Universal's publicity department did a lot to convince people that this was a straight-ahead horror flick-- the original theatrical trailer for THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET that Mirek posted on Friday certainly seems to push things in that direction as does this movie poster with its spectral, scarlet-cloaked fiend with clawed, clutching hands.

Realart Pictures followed Universal's lead when it re-released THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET in 1951. They refer to the killer as "the Phantom Mangler" in the promotional materials (the name sounds like a foe in an El Santo movie), re-titled the film PHANTOM OF PARIS, and sent it back out to theaters as part of a double-feature with WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

Charleston [WV] Daily Mail, February 13, 1952

But I've got no problems with this sort of packaging because this movie delivers a satisfying kind of horror-movie atmosphere that is missing from many other SHOCK! offerings. For all of its lack of narrative logic and general incoherence, THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET could hold its own against one of the spookier Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies (such as THE SCARLET CLAW or THE PEARL OF DEATH), dopey "Inner Sanctum" titles like THE FROZEN GHOST and THE PILLOW OF DEATH, and not-so-weird mysteries like THE CAT CREEPS and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON.

"Superstition and fear terrorize a tropic island in WEIRD WOMAN, the full-length feature film on this channel. It's an exciting Shock premiere. Don't miss it!"


Mirek said...

I may have seen a few minutes of this film at some time, but a handsome DVD-R of the film would find a place in my home, for sure.

I note the rather suggestive poster art.

kochillt said...

The poster art looks very similar to SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, in which Lloyd Corrigan also investigates death by claw. Patric Knowles plays the same character Leon Ames did in 1932's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, this time Paul rather than Pierre, and nearly everyone he meets comments on how he solved the earlier case. Knowles was coming off another mystery/horror, THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX, neither of which inspired a series. Maria Montez is dispatched 24 minutes into this 60 minute feature, certainly no great loss. Maria Ouspenskaya steals it as the grandmother with the leopard, with smaller roles for such stalwarts as Frank Reicher and Charles Middleton. Despite its status as a genuine SHOCK! title, MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET never aired on Pittsburgh's CHILLER THEATER, the same fate as MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, THE GREAT IMPERSONATION, THE LAST WARNING (Preston Foster), and THE WITNESS VANISHES. Many non SHOCK Universals that were shown included THE CROSBY CASE, THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD, RENDEZVOUS AT MIDNIGHT, THE BLACK DOLL, THE CRIME OF DOCTOR HALLET, THE MISSING GUEST, THE HOUSE OF FEAR (Irene Hervey), THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, THE BLACK CAT (Basil Rathbone), INVISIBLE AGENT, JUNGLE WOMAN, MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM, and THE CRIMSON CANARY. Channel 11 continued to show all these Universal titles for another 5 years following its 1984 cancellation of CHILLER THEATER (since 1965, its third season); their library was obviously better stocked than many other local stations across the country. 1988 was the last year they were still available, the non monster ones have been off the radar screen ever since.