Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue was first published in Graham's magazine 174 years ago today, effectively launching the detective-fiction genre. Although earlier writers had penned mystery novels, the trope of a murder being exhaustively analyzed by a perceptive and canny outsider—the "ratiocination," as Poe called it—was all new. At the time, "detectives" didn't even exist, and many contemporaries compared the story's protagonist to a lawyer. In the introduction to a recent publication of the story, author Matthew Pearl credits Poe's tale with introducing such "storytelling staples" as "incompetent police, locked rooms where murders occur, an eccentric genius investigator, [and] a naive but forthright narrator."
Poe himself joked that enthusiastic readers may have confused the brilliance of his fictional sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, with that of the author himself, writing in a letter to a friend, "I do not mean to say that [the stories] are not ingenious—but people think them more ingenious than they are—on account of their method and air of method. In the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' for instance, where is the ingenuity in unraveling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unraveling?"
Its author may have been modest, but Poe's revolutionary story inspired generations of copycat sleuths—some of whom bore a little too much resemblance to Dupin for fans' comfort, as evidenced by a polemic against Sherlock Holmes sent to the New York Times Saturday Review in 1900. In 1944, the story was described as "[o]ne of the most important existing American literary manuscripts" by a New York Times article detailing the sale at auction of Poe's original manuscript for $34,000—double what a Charles Dickens manuscript sold for at the same gallery just the day before.
For these reasons, you can honor The Murders in the Rue Morgue by reading pretty much any detective novel that followed it. If you're interested in a more direct descendant for the story's anniversary, we rounded up a few of the many adaptations you can experience online.
1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue // Feature Film // 1932
A short silent film version adaptation of Rue Morgue was released in 1914, but unfortunately there's no trace of it online—which means this 1932 Universal Pictures production is the earliest movie version. The film itself doesn't actually start until almost 15 minutes in, so you may want to skip ahead.
The story was greatly altered from Poe's original. A contemporary New York Times article explains the reason, which seems in keeping with our modern understanding of screen adaptations:
The great defect in ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’—from the standpoint of hallowed cinema technique—was the absence of a romantic element which Poe did not bother about. He never related his two victims to any other character in the story; neither did he furnish any good motion-picture reason why they should have been so ferociously slain ... The problem then became one of making these women interesting to the audiences and of introducing characters who would be interested in them and their fate.
2. The Phantom of the Rue Morgue // Feature Film // 1954
We could only find the trailer for this loose adaptation, but it's enough to appreciate the campiness. The plot is once again expanded to include more murders, more interpersonal drama, and even an evil villain. Warner Brothers' Phantom was one of the the company's earliest 3-D movies, and the studio crafted it to mimic its first big 3-D hit, House of Wax.
3. Murders in the Rue Morgue // Feature Film // 1971
The plot of this 1971 adaptation resembles Phantom of the Opera far more than it does Poe's original work. However, the movie gets its name from the fact that the theater troupe that keeps suffering mysterious murders at the hands of a masked madman is presenting a stage version of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Watch the trailer above. In the video below, director Gorden Hessler talks about how the production had to change certain key things in order to make a horror film based on a well-known short story (and previous films) that could still shock viewers.
4. The Murders in the Rue Morgue // Radio Play // 1975
The CBS Radio Mystery Theater broadcast is more faithful to the original story with respect to murder itself, though you'll have to do without visuals. The biggest difference is that the radio version, like many of the movies, introduces a romantic relationship at the center of the story: a policeman named Pierre who asks Dupin for help so that he can solve the murder, earn a promotion, and finally marry his fiancee. Listen to it here.
5. Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue // Video Game // 2009
And now for something slightly different. In 2009, Big Fish Games turned the Poe classic into a video game. You can watch some of the game play above.
6. The Murders in the Rue Morgue // Audiobook // 2007
Finally, if you just want to listen to the actual story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, there is a lovely reading produced by LibriVox. The recording is split among three parts, so you'll have to use each of those players above in succession, starting at the top.