If it weren’t for director Szwarc actually being French, The Murders in the Rue Morgue might be the perfect post-modern adaptation.
It’s Americans pretending (without accents, thankfully) to be French. Poe, an American, had never been to France when he wrote the original story. So there’s an artificiality to it, which really fits the story as it turns out.
Unfortunately, Poe’s short story was an earnest attempt. This film version–produced for television–is not. It appears to be an American attempt to capture the ambience of the Granada Television’s “Sherlock Holmes” television series. Rue Morgue‘s producers fail.
The biggest problem is the script; screenwriter Epstein pads the adaptation with rote melodrama (Dupin, played by George C. Scott, not only has a daughter–Rebecca De Mornay–with romance troubles, he’s also got a professional adversary in Ian McShane). Most of the additions play as to Scott being a grumpy old man. I assume aging Dupin was to fit Scott, as a bit of stunt casting.
As far as the acting goes, I suppose McShane gives the film’s only good performance. He’s a slimy politician and he enjoys it. Kilmer and De Mornay are both earnest, but not any good in poorly written roles. Kilmer has these wild, theatrical arm gestures in his scenes with Scott… almost as though he’s trying to get Scott’s attention.
Scott’s performance is lifeless, somewhat appealing out of respect for his ability, but utterly empty.
Szwarc’s direction is similarly limp.
It’s a trying ninety minutes.