Today’s distraction: 1942’s The Mystery Of Marie Roget was based on an Edgar Allan Poe story who – from what I’ve read – based his original short on the true life crime of Mary Cecilia Rogers’ murder. Though by all accounts Rogers’ death was never quite solved, Poe used the details of her somewhat sensational disappearance, return, and subsequent second disappearance as the setting for his own narrative, inserting a mystery in to tantalize readers with what he may’ve deduced become of the lady. It’s also worth noting that Poe crafted the puzzle as a sequel to his popular short – “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” – bringing back his police detective C. Auguste Dupin to host the action. Incidentally, I’ve also read that the Roget story bears the literary distinction of being the very first mystery to be based on actual events. What better source material to adapt to the silver screen?
Directed by Phil Rosen with the Poe story adapted by Michael Jacoby, the feature film includes Patric Knowles, Maria Montez, Maria Ouspenskaya, John Litel, and Edward Norris in prominent roles. Rosen would go on to helm such genre entries as 1944’s Return Of The Ape Man (with Bela Lugosi and John Carradine) and 1946’s The Shadow Returns; and Montez – possibly the box office draw here – would put her exotic good looks to great use as ‘Queen Antinea’ in 1949’s Fantasy/Adventure Siren Of Atlantis for United Artists. Knowles had already made a name for himself with audiences for his work in The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) and The Wolf Man (1941), so there’s no doubting he, too, may’ve been a source of interest for audiences coming into this feature, though I have to wonder if some might’ve left it scratching their heads just a bit as I did.
As per my usual format, the film’s synopsis appears below. My two cents on its construction follow.
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A detective tries to unravel the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a young actress.”
When is a mystery not a mystery?
Well … the simplest answer would be when there really isn’t all that much mystery to begin with, and that’s probably my biggest issue with The Mystery Of Marie Roget. All of the action is kinda/sorta founded on the premise that our central character of Marie Roget (played by the fetching Maria Montez) being absent, and yet she turns up all of her own accord (and in perfect health) in the first reel of a trim 61-minute feature … so … what else ya got?
Therein lies the problem: this mystery had little left in store.
Now, there’s the whole business about just where the actress went and why it all had to be a secret; and this is where Marie Roget turns rather sharply out of the realm of the Fantastic into what’s otherwise a fairly predictable and conventional melodrama. It would seem that Marie has set her homewrecking sights on Marcel (Edward Norris) – the fiancé of her own younger sister Camille (Nell O’Day) – and their romantic escapades as of late required her to vanish from the face of the Earth (seemingly) so that the two can have time together away from prying eyes. Yes, this mystery is little more than one more exploration of the wages of sin, but it gets a little more complex in the second half when Roget does turn up dead, though the guilty culprit really isn’t all that difficult to deduce.
Sadly, there just isn’t all that much more to the film. With the runtime just over one hour, it isn’t as if there’s a lot of room to fill, and the performances from top to bottom all feel a bit too routine to arouse much interest in those showing up expecting more but getting less. Knowles is efficient but rather plain as our lead detective, and he’s not really given all that much character in interactions with sidekick fellow detective Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan). Their relationship is largely set up for comic relief, and I suppose it works just fine on that level. Actress Maria Ouspenskaya makes a great turn as Madame Roget, the outspoken matriarch to the family who sets Dupin to the task of uncovering what’s up with her family; and, arguably, she makes the most of her limited screen time.
The Mystery Of Marie Roget (aka Phantom Of Paris) (1942) was produced by Universal Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the provided sights-and-sounds to what’s reported as a brand-new HD master (from a 2K scan of the 35mm fine grain) exceptional: yes, there’s some obvious highs and lows attributed to the age of the source material, but it’s all still very, very good. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? The disc boasts two separate audio commentaries along with the original theatrical trailer. It’s a quality collection, indeed.
Alas, only mildly recommended.
Going into The Mystery Of Marie Roget (1942), I was entranced with the prospects of experiencing one more theatrical incarnation of the works of genre master Edgar Allan Poe. That and one more chance to ogle Maria Montez doing what she did best in her brief career with the silver screen certainly led me to believe I was on the cusp of discovering another cinematic classic I’d never heard of in that pantheon of forgotten thrillers. On the other end of its 61 minutes, I felt a bit cheated over how little inspiration made its way into the shadows and light, making the alleged mystery and its slim cast a bit of a slog that never quite comes together the way a good yarn should. It’s not a complete failure … but it’s about as close as one gets considering how much talent went into the whole shebang.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Mystery Of Marie Roget – as part of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema Collection, Volume XVI – by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.