Sunday, March 02, 2014

Orang-utans in the movies

TV channels broadcast many American detective crime sagas like ‘CSI’, ‘Law and Order’, ‘Bones’ and ‘The Mentalist’.

They usually begin with a murder, followed by the hero and his staff solving the crime and then order is restored to society.

However, very few people know that this sequence of events in story form dates back to 1841 and involves an orang-utan.

The first crime short story was ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ by the American horror writer Edgar Alan Poe, whose tales still send chills up the spine. He is acknowledged as the first to write the modern detective story.

The story is set in Paris where the unnamed narrator meets a bankrupt member of the upper class, C Auguste Dupin. He has been reduced to poverty but doesn’t really care as his only desire is to read books.

The narrator, also in similar financial circumstances, befriends Dupin and together they stay at a “time eaten, grotesque mansion, long deserted through superstitions”.

They leave the mansion and are walking down the street when they hear shrieks from a four-storey home. Thirty people arrive and break down the door.

They search the house and find the body of a young woman shoved up a chimney head down. The second corpse is found in the back garden nearly beheaded. All of the windows and doors are locked.

Dupin and the narrator draw the conclusion that the attacker is not human from the evidence collected by the witnesses’ statements. The victim has orangey-red hair clasped in her fist, plus the finger pods are not human.

A description of the orang-utan of the time describes “the ourang-outang (sic) of the East Indian Islands as of gigantic stature, prodigious strength and activity, the wild ferocity, and the imitative propensities of these mammalia are known to all”.

Dupin hands this description to the narrator and both agree the killer is an ape. An orang-utan is labelled as the murderer and the hunt is on to identify it.

Through an advertisement, a sailor recently arrived from Borneo said he had taken possession of an orang-utan from a hunter who had passed away. However, the orang-utan had escaped.

The ape had been hidden in a closest. The sailor surmises that the orang-utan had learned the human behaviour of shaving through observation and had tried to shave the girl, inadvertently cutting her throat.

Remembering the whip for past misdeeds, the ape then flies into a rage and kills the younger girl. To hide this hideous act, he stuffs the girl up the chimney and hurls the remains of the older one into the back garden.

The sailor is turned over to the police. The fate of the murderous orang-utan is a mystery.

A film (available on YouTube) loosely based on the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, was shot in 1932 staring Bela Lugosi (star of the first ‘Dracula’ film) as a lunatic scientist who extracts blood from an ill-tempered orang-utan and injects it into virgin abducted women.

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