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A Full Moon Killer has been stalking the streets of New York and now has claimed a scrub woman as his latest victim. The police suspect the Academy of Surgical Research as the home of its killer, who the police believe has a vast knowledge of the human body and where the surgical knives found at the scene came from. Dr. Xavier (head of the Academy) believes this is nonsense, but decides to perform an experiment with the four main suspects (not including Xavier) doctors Wells, Rowitz, Haines, and Duke, to test their reactions to the mention of the crimes as well as reenactments. Xavier's daughter Joan teams up with annoying reporter Lee Taylor to find clues to the murders, but they have to act quickly when one of the doctors is killed and the next victim will be Joan, and no one in the academy will be able to stop him. Very entertaining horror film that did benefit from the two strip Technicolor process. Atwill, Wray, Foster, and Rosener gave very good performances, which however did seem to be overshadowed by all technical aspects of the film, Curtiz' direction, Rennahan's cinematography, and Westmore's makeup for the killer at the film's end. The obvious drawback to the film was the perennially annoying Lee Tracy as the reporter. Oh well, you can't have everything. Rating, 8.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just love these old, dark house style horror/mystery/thrillers from
the 30s. In this one, Lionel Atwill plays Dr. Xavier, the head of a
surgical research institute. A series of brutal killings committed by a
gruesome figure, nicknamed the 'Moon Killer', points to someone within
the institute. The police allow Dr. X the chance to perform an
experiment to uncover the killer. Dr. X decides to move the experiment
to an old, dark house in order to avoid the prying eyes of the press.
The 'press' is played by Lee Tracy in that 30s wise-cracking,
fast-talking way that all newspaper men were portrayed. (I was
immediately reminded of Glenda Farrell from The Mystery of the Wax
Museum, only in this case Lee Tracy is even more annoying.) As the
experiment begins, it soon become apparent that the police were right.
Someone within the house is a killer, but who? Any more of the story
would be too much.
Although the movie is not without flaws, I found Doctor X very enjoyable. The supporting cast includes Fay Wray as Dr. X's daughter. She does her best to prove she was the original 'scream queen'. Also, the staff members/suspects are all wonderfully played in eccentric fashion.
Other things I enjoyed and found to be above average were the set design and the makeup. The set design is impressive. The manor house has everything one comes to expect in this kind of movie. It only adds to the wonderful atmosphere. Also, I felt the makeup (done by Max Factor) was ahead of its time. I found it far more frightening than most movies from this period.
The director, Michael Curtiz, does a wonderful job of building the tension in the final scenes. Very impressive. I really can't say enough about how well he pulled this together with the seemingly limited budget he was working with. (BTW, Curtiz went on to direct such a variety of movies that it really boggles the mind. Included on his resume are the previously mention Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff, Casablanca, and Elvis in King Creole.)
This is one of my favorite movies. Excellent mood and acting. Don't we all love Lionel Atwill? The Moon Killer Murderer is out and about. What a name. They don't make them like this anymore. I feel like I am with old friends as I watch it. "LIVING FLESH"!!!!
By the late 20s, Warner Brothers had already become a major studio
thanks to the enormous success of their revolutionary "talking
pictures", finally delivering fully synchronized sound and dialogs that
could be heard. Soon after this, Warner moved to color as their new
novelty, and using the advanced Technicolor Process 3 (which allowed a
better use of their two color technology), the studio released a wide
variety of films that looked better than the previous Technicolor
films, creating a new revolution of almost the same impact as the
creation of the "talkies". Among those films was the 1932 tale of
horror and mystery, "Doctor X", directed by Michael Curtiz, who in
those years was still one of the many studio directors at Warner.
Mainly known for his effective (always on time and under budget) and
versatile work, this would become the film that proved that this
Hungarian immigrant had a style of his own and was able to make films
of great success.
There is a serial killer on the loose in New York, committing his cannibalistic murders using a scalpel with surgical precision, and always under the light of the full moon, earning the moniker of "The Moon Killer". While the police still has no idea of who the killer is, they know one important thing about him: the killer works as a scientist at the Academy of Surgical Research. The Academy's director, Dr. Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill), decides that in order to avoid any bad reputation for the Academy, he must find who the killer is among the suspects, and asks the Police Commisoner for time to carry on an experiment. Gathering his four comrades in his old mansion, Xavier will try to discover the identity of the killer, as anyone could be the murderer, including himself. At the same time, a wisecracking reporter named Lee (Lee Tracy) finds himself trying to discover what's the mystery at Xavier's Mansion.
The screenplay for "Doctor X" was written by Robert Tasker and Earl Baldwin as an adaptation of a moderately successful three-act play by Howard W. Comstock and Allen C. Miller. The story remained faithful to the mix of mystery, comedy and horror that was popular in that kind of plays, but Tasker and Baldwin enhanced the horror elements of the story, clearly in an attempt to equal the success of Universal's horror movies. While the plot is indeed more focused on horror (including detailed, although not graphic, descriptions of rape and cannibalism), the story remains true to its origins as a play with the inclusion of lighthearted comedy in the shape of Lee, the wisecracking reporter, whose comedic exploits serve to break the tension at several points of the film. While nothing really amazing by today's standards, the story still works very well, with some cleverly written twists and unexpected surprises that spice up the plot.
While the plot sounds definitely like another of those "old dark house" thrillers that were so popular in the 30s, the execution of the film is what truly sets it apart from the rest. For starters, Warner Bros' decision of making "Doctor X" part of their series of Technicolor films allowed director Curtiz to be able to work with the now legendary cinematographer Ray Rennahan, and together they crafted very atmospheric images of haunting beauty. Rennahan's skills with color cinematography works perfectly together with Curtiz' expressionist background in the making of a fast-packed, yet beautifully looking story. As a director, Curtiz was still far from becoming the master who directed "Casablanca", but his classy style can already be seen raw in this movie.
Another of the high points in the film is the casting, starting with Lionel Atwill as Dr. Xavier. Atwill delivers a terrific performance, completely owning his character and giving it a subtle feeling of impeding doom, adding a lot of emotion to the film. Fay Wray is also very good, although like Lee Taylor, doesn't really have anything to do besides playing a stereotype. Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford and Edmund Carewe are pleasant surprises, each giving their own quirky character a distinct look, and like Atwill, make very believable suspects of the heinous crimes. Finally, George Rosener and Leila Bennett have small, yet very funny scenes that add a lot to the black comedy aspect of the film, and personally, I found them infinitely better than Fay Wray and Lee Tracy.
"Doctor X" is a film that has aged badly, showing a style of mystery stories that is not popular anymore after countless of imitations and variations on the same subject. Lee Tracy's comedic performance is also another of the film's details that nowadays look silly and out of place ( Glenda Farrell would do a better work in a similar role in "Mystery of the Wax Museum", the following year), although then again, this kind of over-the-top performances were the standard of comedy/horrors of those years. It is clear that "Doctor X" is definitely not a classic of the genre in the sense of being innovative or groundbreaking, however, I think that the superb execution of the whole film really sets it apart from the rest, and gives it a special charm that it's hard to ignore.
It's safe to say that this movie pales in comparison to some of the best Universal's horrors of those years, and that the cast and crew of this film surpassed themselves the following year with "Mystery of the Wax Museum", completely overshadowing this film; however, "Doctor X" is an enjoyable movie that shows the days of experimentation with color, and the style of horror of the years prior to the Hays Code. While not a life changing experience, "Doctor X" is a perfect film for a dark atmospheric night, where its haunting colors can shine the most. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Doctor X is a very notable horror movie as it was the first horror
movie to be made in colour. I found this quite good.
A series of gruesome killings with evidence of cannibalism are the result of a mad doctor experimenting with synthetic flesh. The police and a journalist investigating these killings discover they have all happened om moonlit nights. The investigation then takes the journalist to Doctor Xavier's creepy cliff top mansion but he is not the killer, this is one of his colleagues who uses this synthetic flesh to disguise himself as a monster. The journalist pushes him out of a window at the end and he burns to death as he catches fire during the struggle.
Doctor X is rather creepy in parts, especially during some of the mansion scenes. The only bad thing about this movie is the journalist who acts a little daft at times, especially with his weird vibrating gadget he has in his hands throughout the movie. His role is intended to be comic relief anyway.
Doctor X has an excellent cast with horror regulars Lionel Atwill (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula) as Doctor Xavier and a pre King Kong Fay Wray as his daughter. The cast also includes Preston Foster, John Wray (no relation to Fay as I am aware of) and Lee Tracy as the journalist.
Doctor X is a must for all horror collectors. Very enjoyable.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love this film but there is something about it that has been bugging me for many years. Now I have to warn you, I am going to mention the end of the film and reveal who the killer is so if you haven't discovered this one yet and want to figure it out for yourselves please skip my post. Everyone else feel free to read on. We see near the end how the Moon Killer uses electricity to weld the artificial hand to the stump of his wrist; and it's clear what agony he is going through while this is done. My question is: How the heck does he remove the hand once he is finished using it to kill someone? Doesn't it hurt like the dickens to get it off again? Any what about the new face he constructs over his own? How much must it hurt to get THAT off? I suppose those are questions we aren't suppose to think about. We should just keep repeating "It's only a movie . . .only a movie . . .only a movie . . ." and enjoy ourselves. Still . . have any of you out there ever wondered about those things?
Not wholly creak-free (Lee tracy's performance is notably of it's time), but still with some marvellous moments. The legendary "synthetic flesh" scene is still totally shocking and bizarre, worth the price of admission alone. Definitely one for the collection.
DOCTOR X (First National, 1932), directed by Michael Curtiz,
capitalizes on the current horror trend made popular by Universal's
1931 releases of Dracula and FRANKENSTEIN. What makes DOCTOR X stand
apart with similar products distributed by other studios was its
two-strip Technicolor process, considering how color was a rarity and
quite costly for its time. Equally rare was the use of color for one
categorized as a horror film instead of a musical. While the title
DOCTOR X indicates a "mad doctor" theme, especially with Lionel Atwill
heading the cast, in true essence is a mystery-comedy with horror
elements and science fiction thrown in along with Fay Wray belting out
a few screams for good measure.
Plot summary: Six brutal killings have taken place at night only when the moon is full. An scrub woman is the latest victim. Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy), an inquisitive reporter for New York's Daily Record, enters the scene on the waterfront where he witnesses Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill), escorted by O'Halloran (Willard Robertson) and Police Commissioner Stevens (Robert Warwick), entering the Mott Street Morgue to examine the body. Because the murders were committed by a maniac with powerful hands near the vicinity of Xavier's Medical Academy of Surgical Research, all evidence points to Xavier's staff. Hoping to clear his academy of a scandal, Xavier asks Stevens for 48 hours to conduct his own investigation. With Taylor constantly snooping around Long Island's Blackstone Shoals estate where the investigations are to take place, Xavier has his beautiful daughter, Joanne (Fay Wray) attract his attention while having his medical staff handcuffed on chairs bound to the floor while staging a re-enactment of the crimes in hope that the mechanism they are connected to (an early indication of a lie detector) will reveal the killer through his heart beat reactions. It is soon discovered there is a killer among them when one of the members participating in the reenactment was murdered during a sudden blackout.
In the supporting cast are Preston Foster (Professor Ben Welles, a one-armed medical student); John Wray (Doctor Haines); Arthur Edmund Carewe (Doctor Rowitz); Harry Beresford (the wheelchair bound Professor Duke); Leila Bennett (Mamie, the frightful maid); George Rosener (Otto, the mysterious butler); Mae Busch (appearing briefly as a boarding house Madame); and Thomas E. Jackson (The Newspaper Editor).
The weakness of DOCTOR X is often accredited to the silly antics provided by Lee Tracy, typically cast as a wisecracking reporter who uses a buzzer placed onto his palm to shock an unsuspecting victims as Mike the Cop (Harry Holman) and Xavier's daughter (Wray) by placing the buzzard onto her bottom; along with he hiding in a slab of the morgue with a name tag placed on his toe, followed by him roaming the laboratory surrounded with dangling skeletons. The strong point of the story, however, is the way the mystery and suspense is handled, from hideous figure lurking about in a dark cloak with hands with long finger nails seen slowly clutching the throat of intended victims to a mysterious eye peeking through the hole on the door; climaxed by the killer's horrific transformation through the use of "synthetic flesh," one of the greatest, yet gruesome moments captured on film, even more effective in color.
During the days of commercial television, DOCTOR X aired in black and white. A perennial favorite on New York City's "Chiller Theater" on WPIX, Channel 11, from the 1960s to 1977, it would be another decade before DOCTOR X turned up on the airwaves again, this time with early Technicolor prints acquired from UCLA Film Archives, on cable TV's Turner Network Television (1988-1993), Turner Classic Movies (1994-present), and further availability on video cassette in the 1990s and then DVD. In one of the briefings by TCM's host, Bob Osborne, he mentioned that Technicolor prints of DOCTOR X were few, having circulated in big cities like New York and Chicago, while black and white prints played at smaller theaters in other areas. Fortunately, DOCTOR X has survived in Technicolor, make this a worth while event, thanks to interesting make-up effects by the Max Factor Corporation, lavish sets by Anton Grot, a chance seeing classic film actors usually not associated in Technicolor, notably Fay Wray and her reddish brown hair.
With the obvious success by 1932 standards of DOCTOR X, Atwill and Wray would work together again in more of the same with 1933 releases of THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic) and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (Warner Brothers). Seven years later, Warners turned out a sequel in name only titled THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (Warners, 1939). Instead of bringing back Tracy, Wray and Atwill, the new leads were enacted by Wayne Morris as the comical reporter, Rosemary Lane the heroine, and Humphrey Bogart (!) as a zombie, formerly Doctor Maurice Xavier brought back to life not through the use of synthetic flesh, but by synthetic blood. A missed opportunity for Lionel Atwill, the one and only Doctor X, or was it? (***)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This bizarre horror film is best seen in the original two strip
Technicolor if only to see how effective that early foray into color
worked at the time. It is one of the stars of this weirdly compelling
Realizing that the story line is over the top as is some of the acting, you still can't help but be fascinated by the atmospheric old mansion and all the goings-on. The laboratory sets are particularly stylized and rather beautiful. Although I have enjoyed some of Lee Tracy's films, the inserted "humor" of his character here slows the pace to a crawl. If you can get past that, there's a great film here. Lionel Atwill, the consummate "mad scientist", is at his menacing best and Fay Wray as his daughter warms up her screams for the upcoming "King Kong"....in fact she screams for no apparent reason after about 5 seconds into her first appearance. Preston Foster, a stalwart in films for years, has a role with an unexpected "twist" which may come as a surprise to viewers.
I'll not go into the plot line about the "Moon Murders" since it has been discussed in other reviews.....needless to say, it's just what you would expect in a film starring Atwill. All the blood and gore found in modern films is conveyed here through the dialogue so listen carefully. The final scenes where the killer is revealed makes it all worth while. Even though it is very dated, this is a gem of the horror genre and should not be missed.
The New York newspapers have dubbed him "The Moon Killer." He stalks
the streets at night, strangling and cannibalizing men and women, young
and old. There have been six victims so far, and the police believe
that a scientist at the Academy of Surgical Research is responsible. Is
it Dr. Wells (Preston Foster), with the missing left hand, who studied
cannibals in Africa? Is it Dr. Haines (John Ray), who looks at erotic
magazines and once may have cannibalized a fellow while adrift at sea?
Is it Dr. Rowitz (Arthur Edmund Carewe), who analyzes moon rays and
writes poetry? Is it Dr. Duke (Harry Beresford), an obstreperous
paralytic? Or is it Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill), a.k.a. Dr. X, who runs
the academy? Dr. X's young and lovely daughter (Fay Wray) will be
instrumental in solving the crime, as will the hysterical maid (Leila
Bennett) and the sinister butler (George Rosener). Our trip through
this morbid tale is guided by the wisecracking reporter (Lee Tracy) who
will find himself toe-tagged, gassed, tossed around and generally
manhandled before the mystery is solved.
Some mystery. This is one of those wretched "Cat and the Canary"-style stories where no one behaves like a plausible human being; unlikely, or downright impossible, situations occur by the minute; red herrings are thrown at us by the bucketfuls; and the comedy relief is so unrelenting that we pray for relief from the comedy. Everything that happens, happens because the plot demands it and the filmmakers want an effect at a particular moment. Fay Wray screams because that's where they wanted her to scream. Lionel Atwill looks guilty because that's where they wanted him to look guilty. The police give Atwill 48 hours to produce the killer himself; Atwill produces lifelike wax figures of all the victims to get a rise out of the real killer; he puts his own daughter in an extraordinarily dangerous situationall because that's what the plot says must happen.
These movies are supposed to be fun, but they're not. The crazier a story is, the more it must follow its own peculiar rules. The more arbitrary the plot and characterizations, the less fun it is. See "Bride of Frankenstein" for a movie that can be both insane and yet tethered to a believable other-reality. "Dr. X" is insane and tedious.
Still, all horror fans are required to see this movie once. The two-color Technicolor process, which looks like an especially washed-out computer colorized film, is creepy and, on the whole, somewhat effective. Michael Curtiz directs a crew that shoots, stages and edits the film with remarkable fluidity and dramatic purpose, particularly for an early talkie using primitive Technicolor equipment. The main reason to see "Dr. X" is the transformation scene near the end. I won't spoil it for you. I'll only say it's one of the great horror sequences in the movies.
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