A Movie A Day: DOCTOR X (1932) Something tells me if I go in that room tonight, tomorrow I’ll be in my coffin.
Published at: Oct. 7, 2010, 10:25 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
Going into this movie I knew Fay Wray was in it and the great Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) directed it, but nothing else about the story.
The first thing that struck me was that the 1932 film was in color. Kinda. It has red and green in it… a lot of green, actually. This process, Two Strip Technicolor was a precursor to the Three Strip process that most associate with the brand “Technicolor” and has the feel of the bastardized colorization process.
It is also pretty clear that there’s not a great original negative of this film rolling around out there as the print on the DVD is pretty beat up. I don’t mind stuff like that, though. Scratches only give the film character!
The basic story is pretty standard whodunit fare with a crazy scientist twist. A series of brutal murders have rocked a metropolitan city. Bodies have been found strangled and partially “cannibaled” (their word, not mine). Incisions on the bodies prove that they were done surgically with a type of scalpel that only can be found in one medical school.
The cops are ready to bust down the door and interrogate every student, teacher and passerby when the head of the institute, a respected professional witness and friend to the police department, Professor Xavier (not the mutant, Lionell Atwill… and it’s pronounced Ex-Ay-Ve-Ay), asks them to hold off for the sake of the horrible publicity that will result in such a raid.
Dr. Xavier wants to run a series of tests on the prime suspects that can positively deduce who the killer is through scientific means… of course, by scientific they mean a heart-rate analyzer and a bunch of steaming test tubes and electric arcs.
Before we get to the experiment (which of course brings all the suspects to one creepy old mansion on a cliff side with a huge brick dungeon) we’re introduced to all of our potential killers. Every single one of them could be a freaky murderer. They all could teach Mad Scientists 101. One of them is missing a hand (and this one also wrote a book on Cannibalism), one of them has a huge scar on the side of his face and one has an eerily crippled leg.
The B story follows a reporter with a go-get-em attitude who bumbles around trying to get the story, romancing Dr. Xavier’s daughter (Fay Wray) along the way.
Can’t say I loved this movie and a lot of that is the time wasted with Lee Tracy’s Lee Taylor, the jokester newspaper man that always has a buzzer in his hand and a smart-ass remark on his tongue. Normally this would be my favorite character in a movie, but it felt like they let Tracy improv a lot and he’s not all that good at it. Plus he just feels out of the place in the movie, destroying any semblance of atmosphere every time he shows up.
Wray is red hot, man, and is the only saving grace of the reporter subplot. A year from her iconic turn as Ann Darrow in King Kong, Wray exudes a calm, collected comfortable-with-being-this-damn-hot charm that is hard to ignore.
One thing I’ll give this movie is that it surprised me with the identity of the killer. I figured the movie was called Doctor X and the answer was right in the title, but I was wrong.
I didn’t guess the identity of the killer and what they do with him looks cool (it’s a crazy make-up job), but makes very little sense even with the rules set up in this universe. I won’t go into it much further because I don’t want to spoil the one aspect of the film that truly succeeds, but it is kind of ridiculous and you either have to roll with it or you’ll palm-smack your forehead.
Final Thoughts: There’s a reason this film isn’t thought of along with the great monster thrillers of this time period. It’s a flawed exercise in mixing light-hearted comedy with horror, not truly getting that you have to integrate the two or it just feels like you have two different movies running simultaneously.
Currently in print on DVD: YES Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Friday, October 8th: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (1939)
Saturday, October 9th: THE TENANT (1976)
Sunday, October 10th: MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953)
Monday, October 11th: NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
Tuesday, October 12th: PROPHECY (1979)
Wednesday, October 13th: THE OTHER (1972)
Thursday, October 14th: THE MUMMY (1959)
Tomorrow we hit our first sequel of the 2010 Halloween edition of A Movie A Day with Humphrey Bogart (!?!) starring in THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X! I spoke with Mr. Knowles about this and he was much more excited for me to dive into the sequel. Who wouldn’t want to watch Bogie in a horror flick?
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