The mansions of filmdom are still haunted. Of "ghosties and ghoulies and a lang-leggity beasties that go bump "in the night" there is no surcease.
In a candle-lit surgery in London, Dr. Jekyll brews broth of Hell, gulps down his potation, and with many a phthisical cough turns into "Mr. 'Ide," the terror of Limehouse. In Germany, Bavarian merrymaking is stilled as Frankenstein's monster stalks abroad. And somewhere in the English countryside, Count Dracula pushes up his mouldering coffin-lid, flicks the gravedirt from his shoulders, and adjusts his cravat for a pleasant evening.
Now there is no sleeping of nights in the Rue Morgue. Our scene is at the midway of the Paris Fair of 1845. We enter the tend of Dr. Mirakle (a cognomen which rhymes with "cackle"), and we are face to face with none other than Mr. Bela Lugosi, of "Dracula" memory. The doctor pretends to hold converse with his gorilla, Erik, meanwhile affrighting this pre-Darwinian air with sly allusions to Erik's kinship with his human audience. In this audience, flushed with fairday excitement, are a medical student, Pierre, and his fiancee (Miss Sydney Fox, as well as another medical student and his beloved. Leaving this old machinator of a Mirakle for the disarming young people, we follow Pierre and his friends in scenes of Bohemian gayety that owe practically everything to DuMaurier and Puccini's opera. Here are Mimi and Musetta, making merry in studio bedrooms and cavorting in the park on holidays. Except for a suspicion that Musetta is a child of Keokuk and not of Paris, it is all rather touching. They should really play the Musetta Waltz from "Boheme."
But the shadow of old Dr. Mirakle falls upon them. He has hatched the pretty scheme of crossing simian and human blood, in order to prove the kinship of the two strains by the resulting issue. This is set forth with becoming modesty in the film, but it is evident that the good doctor is bent upon playing pander to Erik. He is an uncommonly good one; for in the hit-and-miss days of 1845, we find him making blood-tests of all prospective victims and fastidiously discarding the unsuitables into the Seine, one by one. The best is none too good for Erik. It comes about that Pierre's beloved is captured for Mirakle's experiment.
At this point let us lake leave of the plot, trusting to the celluloid deities to protect virtue in distress to the last foot of film, and to the final fade-out, where their responsibility ends.
In subjecting this plot to a merciless synopsis, the Playgoer admits that he has exaggerated the element of horror. This element is sufficiently diluted in the actual showing to make more prominent other merits, such as the careful settings, imaginatively done, and the capable photography and camera-angles. There is a consistent tone to the piece, a tone that was lacking in "Frankenstein," with its weakening comedy interludes. The extravagance and absurdity of the plot is somehow reconciled by the opening scene sin the mountebank's tent, which set the key for shivery theatricality. Mirakle, showman that he is, can heap leer on leer and only add to our pleasure.
Miss Fox, the chief feminine interest, is one of the most agreeable ingenues out of Hollywood. She avoids both the vapidity and the hard fragility of the usual sort. Pleasantly brunette, her speech is very charming.
Mr. Poe would hardly recognize his story, unless by the fact of finding a gorilla mixed up in it. But he might have a pleasant evening at the movie, nevertheless.