Tonight’s TV movie hails from the ever-receding land of 1986. This version of The Murders in the Rue Morgue followed the Poe story in many ways, but with some TV movie flavor crystals sprinkled in liberally. It’s still the story of a detective (George C. Scott) who isn’t officially a detective by profession, but this time he’s been made redundant at work from his detective job by a hater of a boss (Ian McShane). And now, in addition to an assistant (Val Kilmer, looking the way I remember him in the 80s, yum), the main sleuth has a daughter (Rebecca De Mornay) who is engaged to the main murder suspect, a suspect who is also a big time womanizer! This cheating heart subplot is 80s TV on a stick. It’s fun to see the old story get the TV cheese treatment, but I’m not sure this is the best adaptation of a Poe story ever made.
For one thing, this is one of those stories that has been copied so much by every detective story ever written that it feels like a cliche. I mean, technically it is now a cliche, although through no fault of its own. Even though you know while you’re watching it that the original short story was the first modern detective story, one can become weary of greatness after seeing it ripped off a million times. Also, I had no idea Rebecca De Mornay was such a terrible actress! Maybe she’s just not suited for playing proper Victorian maidens, or maybe she was getting into the role of Scott’s daughter so fervently that she started chewing the scenery right alongside him. The histrionics and yelling work when he does it, but not so much for her. I like her much better as a teenage hooker or a murderous nanny.
Still, you could find worse ways to kill 90 minutes than this movie. At least you don’t see the killer at the beginning than then watch the detectives solve the case knowing all the time who the killer is. And George C. Scott is always fun to watch, even if his acting is everyone else’s hamming. If anything, watching this version of The Murders in the Rue Morgue has inspired me to take a look at the best of Roger Corman’s 60s Poe movies which were adapted by Richard Matheson, so I’ll probably dedicate a month to that here soon. As for this movie, it’s recommended for TV movie junkies, Kilmer and Scott fans, and 80s apologists.