Mystery of Marie Roget

Movie Information

In Brief: Universal traded one last time on the name of Edgar Allan Poe with Mystery of Marie Roget (1942) — another of their mystery movies masquerading as horror. This, of course, meant it was destined to be part of the "Shock Theater" package. The fact that it is so clearly a Universal film, has so many of the stock music cues, is atmospheric and features Patric Knowles and Maria Ouspenskaya kept most everyone from complaining that it was "only a mystery." Though she has top billing on the main title (not on the end credits), Maria Montez is only in about 20 minutes of the movie, but Universal was grooming her for those big Technicolor extravaganzas she became known for. It's really Knowles' picture — with strong support from Ouspenskaya and Lloyd Corrigan. He plays Dr. Paul Dupin (for some reason Universal never used Poe's "C. Auguste Dupin") and is credited in passing for having solved "the Rue Morgue case," but any connection to the Lugosi Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) is purely in the studio's standing European village set. What we get is a slickly made, beautifully photographed little thriller that benefits from liberal doses of comedy. As a neat programmer, you couldn't ask for much more.
Genre: Mystery Horror
Director: Phil Rosen (Return of the Ape Man)
Starring: Patric Knowles, Maria Montez, Maria Ouspenskaya, John Litel, Nell O'Day, Lloyd Corrigan, Edward Norris
Rated: NR



Phil Rosen’s Mystery of Marie Roget is something of a curiosity. We can start with the fact that Phil Rosen directed it. Rosen had been in the movie business since 1912 and a director since 1915. He seems to have been pretty highly regarded in the silent era, but sound was his downfall — though not for any apparent reason, since his talkies aren’t obviously old-fashioned. They’re just cheapjack affairs knocked out in a few days for studios like Monogram — and worse. By 1942 he was so associated with poverty row that it has caused more than a few people to think that Mystery of Marie Roget was an independent cheapie that Universal just picked up, but it’s not. It’s low-budget alright, but Universal born and bred low-budget. Why Rosen was brought in is unknown. Then too, it’s part of a half-hearted attempt by the studio to make Patric Knowles an actual movie star instead of a supporting lead. It didn’t work. And there’s the business of show-casing Maria Montez on her way to becoming Universal’s Technicolor queen of camp — here given star billing but little screen time as the title character. Finally, there’s the whole mystery-horror hybrid business — played up because of the Poe name, but amounting to little more than a gruesome murder method, a pet leopard, a creepy visit to the morgue and a stolen brain. In spite of this, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the movie for not being a horror picture. I think it may just be too darn likable.




In its favor is Knowles’ performance as Dupin. He’s cool, relaxed, reasonably dashing — and basically all you could ask for as a combined detective hero and romantic lead. That he’s teamed with Lloyd Corrigan (who had transitioned from an undistinguished director to a distinguished character comic a couple of years earlier) helps. They have easy chemistry. Similarly, Corrigan’s blustery Prefect of Police makes a terrific foil for Maria Ouspenskaya as the outspoken and shrewd granny Roget. It’s the kind of pairing where even fairly weak comedy comes across as funny. But a great deal of what makes Mystery of Marie Roget work as a creepy mystery is the atmosphere generated by Rosen and cinematographer Elwood Bredell, who make a cheap movie look anything but. How much of this is due to Rosen and how much belongs to Bredell is hard to say. To compare this to such down-and-dirty poverty row titles from Rosen as Spooks Run Wild (1941) and Murder by Invitation (1941) is unfair, even worthless. Here he had more time, better facilities, better sets — and a better cinematographer than Monogram’s Marcel Le Picard. Whoever is responsible, it’s the look of the movie that sells it.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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