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Great old champ!
PrincessAnanka29 June 2001
Don't even try to compare this wonderful old WArner Brothers thriller from l934 with today's thrillers. It was made at a time long gone when atmosphere, sets, lighting and camerawork were king. I adore getting this movie out at least once a month along with "Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "Night Monster" (another reviewer has also cited "Night Monster" as the classic it is)turn out the lights and lose myself in the early Technicolor two-strip photographey which is beautifully pastel and atmospheric in its eerie greens, pinks, crimson and gold. The Anton Grot sets are unforgettable. The cast of Hollywood's greatest character actors throw themselves into their roles (I doubt they had any other choice. After all, the demonic Michael Curtiz was cracking the whip as director). Fay Wray is pretty and screams now and then. Most irritating of all is Lee Tracey as the relentlessly wise-cracking reporter. Glenda Farrell had the same role in "Mystery of the Wax Museum" also filmed in early color and she was fantastic. A great old thriller, set in a remote mansion by the sea. The monster is terrifying. Ironically, you never see any carnage, blood or torture. Hats off to those long-ago film masters who knew how to do things right.
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Full Moon High
telegonus25 August 2002
Old dark house thrillers were all the rage in the early talkie era. Doctor X combines a spooky old house with a mad scientist horror story, and as directed by Michael Curtiz in early two-strip Technicolor, it's a quite good show even by today's standards.

Lionel Atwill's Doctor X is a scientist who runs a medical research institute in New York City near where a series of grisly murders have recently occurred. He and his entire teaching staff are suspects in the case, as the police have determined that the killer has some medical knowledge. The ever-helpful doctor seeks to prove the authorities wrong, and transports his staff to the cliffside manor, Blackstone Shoals, to prove them wrong, and gets more than he bargained for.

Newspaperman Lee Tracy is along for the ride, and can't seem to keep his mouth shut, as he continually makes wisecracks. His character is utterly of the time, and as such a fascinating glimpse of a bygone type, both of real life and the movies. Fay Wray is her usual lissome self, with her peculiarly gyrating physicality far more interesting than her delivery of dialog. She's a brunette here, and proves herself once again filmdom's definitive Scream Queen, on at least one occasion shrieking with no provocation whatsoever, as if in preparation for the horror to come.

For a 1932 movie, this one moves quickly. There are enough dour and sinister-looking suspects to keep one guessing the identity of the murderer till near the end. Curtiz shows an often sadistic sense of humor, as when several suspects are manacled to their chairs to witness reenactment of one of the murders, only to have the real killer turn up! The director's control of the material is complete, and he shows himself once more one of great unsung masters of the studio era.
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One of my Top Two Favs
Norm-3024 May 1999
As a collector of old mystery-horror-comedy films (over 700 in my collection!), "Dr. X" (& "Night Monster") rank as my Top Two Films of All-Time! And, that's quite a statement!

Why? The marvellously spooky sets by Anton Grot, the superstitious antics of the maid, plus the ad-libbing of Lee Tracey make this film a gem! The entire film is extremely "atmospheric" and the effects of the "monster" shadows on the walls, clutching hands, wind (machines!), and all the rest really add to it!

Sometimes I watch this film just to observe the SETS!

(If you see it, watch the scene where Lee Tracey is trying to get into the house on Blackstone Shoals....the "wind" is howling like crazy, but not many of the trees are moving! I LOVE it!)

If possible, try to watch this film in the original tri-color technicolor version, as it's a lot better!

A wonderfully creepy film!
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Love Those Two Colors!
ccthemovieman-125 October 2006
Wow, what a shock - a 1932 color movie! Well, sort of......only two colors, but they look great.

I only got this because I saw it at the library as part of a two-pack with "The Return Of Dr. X." It is part of a Hollywood "Legends Of Horror" package that includes several other films I am familiar with and think highly of, so I can see a possible future purchase.

Anyway, the first thing that struck me watching this was that fantastic two-strip Technicolor. Immediately there is a street scene of green and brown that looks tremendous....and eerie. You would think that only black-and-white might make this look eerie, but not so - that combination of green and brown was very effective and made this a fascinating visual film. Hats off to the UCLA film restoration team, which made this 75-year-old film look really good.

As for the story, well, let's just say it doesn't measure up to the visuals. It starts off looking like a fun movie, even - surprise - a comedy as the newsman "Lee Taylor" (Lee Tracy) cracks a few corny jokes. However, it settles down into a crime story (more than horror) and we wind up with a whodunit and a room full of suspects, a la Charlie Chan or Sherlock Holmes. The suspects are all scientists working in the Academy of Surgical Research. A bunch of recent hideous crimes by the "Moon Killer" were all done in the vicinity of the academy, so they're the prime suspects. Even the head man at the academy, "Dr. Xavier," looks a bit suspicious. He is played well by Lionel Atwill.

The police give "Dr. X" 48 hours to find out if any of his employees are the killer before they totally take over the investigation and ruin the reputation of the scientific institution. All of the scientists, by the way, look and act creepy which adds to the mystery. Heck, they all could be serial killers.

The film drags during much of that period - except for a short testing session that Dr. X sets up to see if any of his subordinates are, indeed, the killer. Apparently, it's true because someone kills one of the suspects during the experiment! Then there is another long lull and the cops are getting impatient with the good doctor. They give him another ultimate so he "tests" his employees again, this time using his daughter "Joanne" (Fay Wray) as a guinea pig, so to speak.

Then, we finally see who the real killer is and that part is fun to watch and he transforms into a hideous monster-like man. I guess this why the film is called a horror film instead of a crime movie. I won't give the ending away but I admit, it's pretty good.

If that long middle part had been spiced up a bit, this would have super, but it was too talky for too long. Still, this isn't bad and I love those two colors. I wish more movies looked like that.
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Doctor X (1932) **1/2
JoeKarlosi28 January 2006
DOCTOR X is one of those heartbreaking films to watch for a fan of old horror movies, because it has so many wonderful things going for it yet just narrowly misses the mark of being really good due to a liability or two which could have been avoided. As is so often the case with early '30s fright films like this, the need was felt to add a "funnyman" to the proceedings to perhaps give audiences of the day a chance to laugh along with being scared. The culprit in this case is Lee Tracy, who plays a typical golden age newspaper reporter who snoops around and gets his nose tangled into everyone's business.

The "business" at hand is a string of killings in New York regarding a fiend who strangles people and then apparently cannibalizes them. Dr. Xavier (the always enjoyable Lionel Atwill) heads a group of doctors who are all suspects up for scrutiny, and though we have to deal with the frequent lapses into silliness from Mr. Tracy, this old chestnut is interesting and gripping a fair amount of its running time. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job of visually entertaining us with strange angles, quick closeups and flashy set designs. An added delight is the early use of two-strip color that gives the film a rather eerie dimension with its muted greens. Fay Wray (KING KONG) steps into another early horror picture here, but really doesn't have much to do and isn't of much use to the story. There's a completely out of place beach scene with Wray and Tracy that will leave you wondering who thought it shouldn't be left on the cutting room floor (perhaps it was an excuse to get a pantie shot of Fay as she sunbathes under her big beach umbrella).

The film's strongest moment comes in a revelation sequence late in the movie where we finally get to see who the crazed murderer is, and it's still chilling even now to watch him go through his insane routine. You're bound to have the words "synthetic flesh" etched into your subconscious for a long time after seeing DOCTOR X, and if there's one thing you'll remember, this will be it. **1/2 out of ****
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Fun chiller, one of the best of the '30s
TheFinalAlias22 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The 1930's was one of the most interesting transitional periods for the horror genre; it marked the heyday of the classic Gothic horror film, and the seeds of elements from the contemporary noir thrillers and 'Old Dark house' comedies which would later evolve into the 'Gruesome True Crime' films, and much later; the Slasher flick. 'Doctor X' is a great embodiment of all those different eras in one neat package.

Like a noir film, the film takes place mostly at night with many expressionistic camera angles and reliance on shadows to create ambiance, like a crime thriller/whodunit, the film has police, reporters and multiple suspects, like an Old Dark House film, there's creepy but comical servants and well, an old dark house, and like various Gothic horror films, there's a mad scientist villain who may as well be a magician. Half the fun, however, is figuring out who the villain is.

The plot is somewhat convoluted, but told in a linear enough fashion. A series of grisly killings that take place in the full moon(which may or, may not involve cannibalism) which the police determine could have only been committed using a certain kind of scalpel found exclusively at a currently closed university run by Doctor Xavier(Lionel Atwill); it seems all the doctors are likely suspects, but at the same time each has a plausible alibi, Xavier is given 48 hours to determine which of his faculty is the killer. Meanwhile, a wisecracking reporter(Lee Tracy)is hot on the trail not only of the killer, but of Xavier's daughter(Fay Wray, a year away from the role that would make her famous in 'King Kong'). Hilarity, or what we're supposed to see as hilarity, ensues, along with some good natured scares.

The film has several odd elements worth mentioning, not the least of which is that it was one of the rare films of this era shot in color. For one, as often as Tracy's reporter character is criticized for being annoying(And a gag involving a hand-buzzer wears thin REALLY fast), he does not slow down the narrative as much as you would think. For some odd reason, characters like him who are often the sidekick of the main hero really do annoy me, but I had no problem with him here, because he IS the hero, not a sidekick. You'd expect that giving such a character such prominent screen time would make him more annoying, but it doesn't. Thankfully, there is no straight man for his antics to draw attention from, so his antics seem natural. Plus, it works as a character trait when you think about it, he's selfish and annoying and only thinks he's funny, but that's one of his flaws. And best of all, he actually does get to show some depth and dignity by being THE man who defeats the villain at the end. It may not be three-dimensional character development, but it's something you didn't see everyday in such comedy-relief characters.

What's also interesting are some of the 'jump' scenes. Several years before Val Lewton perfected the 'bus' sequences in his films, 'Doctor X' throws in several; from a genuinely chilling scene where the Moon Killer zeroes in on our hero, to a scene where one of the suspected doctors is introduced in silhouette, his pointed beard and disheveled, pointing hair spikes making him look like the devil. Great stuff. It's also interesting how the title could refer to either Xavier(Who IS a suspect just as much as the others), or as a metaphorical term for the search, after all, if one of the doctors has to be the killer, than the search is for 'Doctor X'. Clever.

So other than some plot holes, flat gags, the usual contrived love story, and a never explained motive for why the killer is compelled by the full moon, the film is a ton of fun to watch. And even just the HINT that the killer may or may not be a cannibal must have made this too gruesome for words back in the '30's. The color is also a nice plus.

Don't miss it. Just be sure to apply a lot of 'Sssssssynthet-tic Flessshhhh' before watching it(A scene which was a real creeper then, and still is today).

Y'know what's funny? The more I re-evaluate the '30's horror classics I loved as a kid, the more I realize that, aside from the Whale films and the Lugosi/Karloff trilogy, the majority of the best films of the era were not from Universal. Bizarre.~
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Beware The Full Moon & What It Brings!
Ron Oliver22 January 2000
A creepy laboratory where eccentric doctors engage in bizarre experiments. An intrepid reporter & a beautiful young woman involving themselves in terrible danger. And a fiendish strangler who only strikes during the full moon...

DOCTOR X does have an absurd plot, but it is undeniably entertaining to watch. Much of the credit for this must go to the look of the film. Art Director Anton Grot designed some very spooky interior sets. The Max Factor make-up is striking. And both elements are enhanced because this was one of the first movies to be shot in two-strip Technicolor.

Lee Tracy, one of the most enjoyable actors of the early 1930's, plays another in his long line of fast-talking wise-crackers - this time a newspaperman out to get a big story. Fay Wray is lovely as always & gets to use her famous scream (a year before KING KONG). Lionel Atwill hams it up a bit as the instigator of many of the more unusual elements in the plot.
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Some stunning sequences make up for some creaky bits.
mpag12 July 2000
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.
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One of my favorites
kenty30 April 2000
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"!!!!
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"Synthetic" early horror film is fun despite a hokey plot...
Neil Doyle1 December 2005
When you think of it, everything about this film is strictly synthetic...the plot, the hokey comic relief, the occasional ham acting--but the atmosphere photographed in crisp looking two-strip Technicolor is fully charged and the taut direction of Michael Curtiz (long before he did another more polished noir called THE UNSUSPECTED), makes this a very watchable early horror film from Warner Bros.

The Anton Grot sets in early color will keep the viewer totally enhanced even when the plot holes become too obvious. The annoying comic relief supplied by Lee Tracy as a fast-talking newspaperman (was there any other kind?), is fortunately not much of a handicap when the cast includes an assortment of richly eccentric characters.

I have to confess I guessed who the murderer was from the start--but it didn't dampen my enjoyment of the melodramatic and very creepy events. The storyline concerns a killer known for striking when there's a full moon and Lionel Atwill is the doctor who thinks he can solve the crime by some scientific detective work of his own.

It's the sort of film that became a staple of the "old dark house" mysteries audiences loved in the '20s and '30s--and even into the '40s with films like THE CAT AND THE CANARY. None of it seems quite as compelling as some of the better known fright films (including MURDER IN THE WAX MUSEUM), but we do get a chance to hear some first rate screams from Fay Wray (who looks very attractive in close-ups even though the Max Factor make-up is a little too extreme), and the capable cast includes such sturdy performers as Lionel Atwill and Preston Foster.

Trivia note: The killer's synthetic flesh make-up is very effective when he's in full mode on the kill. Kudos to Michael Curtiz for a fun-filled fright film.
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I Would Write Two Words, but It Would Spoil the Picture
Mike-7644 October 2005
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.
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Dr. X meets the Moon Killer
bensonmum24 February 2005
Warning: 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.)
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Mad killer doctor experiments with synthetic flesh
Chris Gaskin13 June 2005
Warning: 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.
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Creepy blending of "old dark house" and early sci/fi.
reptilicus14 May 2001
Warning: 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?
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Very good for its time
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
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If only he'd killed the annoying reporter...
Prichards1234521 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Dr. X is the film that made a horror star out of Lionel Atwill, and where would the genre be without him? Here he stars as the titular Dr. (Xavier)convinced that a member of the medical academy he runs is the mysterious moon-killer, a cannibal that strangles his victims and then tears out the left deltoid muscle. Maybe they taste like chicken? Meanwhile our intrepid reporter-hero-comic relief-annoying little git is out to get the inside story. The latter trait is much to the for, as Lee Tracey, who plays him, is about as funny as finding out Hannibal Lecter was your chef for the evening. Even fairly early in the proceedings, when he clings to a gutter to listen in to Xavier's plans, I was willing him to fall.

Luckily as well as the ever reliable Atwill we have Fay Wray on hand to concentrate on. In the excellently restored DVD I watched Miss Wray looks strikingly beautiful and gives a natural and likable performance as Xavier's daughter Joanna. This being a Warner Bros film, it's fast-paced, yet retains a creepy atmosphere. Legendary director Michael Curtiz, responsible for such classics as Casablanca and Angels With Dirty Faces, never lets the action stop and gives us a marvellous experiment scene, with Xavier trying to uncover the murderer's identity by having the chief suspects watch a re-enactment of the killer's crimes.

Of course the solution to the mystery is absurd, but this is a fantasy-horror and it works well within the context of the film. The two-tone colour (Red and Green) looks fantastic in the now fully remastered DVD; and Dr. X will hold your interest to the very end. Wray and Atwill were soon to reunite in The Vampire Bat and Mystery of The Wax Museum, the latter another excellent two-tone horror from Warners.
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The Moon Killer Murder Mystery
lugonian8 November 2008
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? (***)
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Old School
Bucs196014 September 2007
Warning: 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 film.

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" 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.
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Highly Disappointing
cerb_chaos15 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I came here expecting a fun 30's era horror film, in it's place I found a terribly written (but nicely colored) piece of junk. The plot surrounds a killer who only comes out during the full moon (which seems to happen every day) and follows the mystery of the killings. The suspects are soon narrowed down to a room full of scientists, and of course they strike the one armed man from the list as well. Added to the mix is a bumbling newspaper man who continues to lumber along with his tired shtick.

This mystery is not a mystery. I knew as soon as the one armed man was struck off the list that he was the killer. Somehow. Unfortunately it took a full hour for the movie to "surprise" us with the result. I'm a lover of old 30's horror films and was genuinely angry that I didn't get what I was looking for. Still, it is beautifully colored.

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One of the great horror sequences in moviedom highlights a tediously implausible mystery with unrelieved comedy relief
J. Spurlin5 February 2007
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 situation—all 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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Lurid and Pulpish a Must See Despite the Synthetic Comedy
LeonLouisRicci25 August 2014
There are Many Enjoyable Elements Incorporated in this Early Talkie/Technicolor Horror Movie. It is Directed with Flair and Style from One of Hollywood's Elite, Michael Curtiz and Shot in a Two-Strip Color Process that was Rare at the Time.

It has Horror Icon's Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. The Exciting Climax Lovingly Displays some Fantastic Horror Makeup and is Filmed in Eerie Closeups and is Quite Impressive. The Sets are Mad-Lab Expressionistic and there is Pre-Code Nastiness and Lurid Inclusions.

The Movie is Visually Stunning at Times and is Always Interesting, Using Pulp Magazine Style Art Representations that were Popular at the Time with Bondage and Women in Peril Themes. The Horror Elements may seem Dated but are Still Chilling in a Retro Kind of Way.

Fay Wray is a Beauty and is Exploited in a Beach Scene right up to a Money Shot. Lionel Atwill and His Board of Scientists are Creepy and Eccentric with Physical and Mental Scars that are, Again, Pulp Inspired.

The Pre-Code Stuff Includes a Whore-House, Cannibalism, a Drug Addict and More. This is a Great Example of Uncensored Hollywood and is Only Brought Down Today by a Heavy Dose of Slapstick Humor and Stilted Love Interest with the Never Appealing Lee Tracy (although He has His Fans).
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Atwill Begins
utgard1424 December 2013
The police are investigating a series of murders where victims have been cut up by scalpel and cannibalized. The murders always take place on a night with a full moon. They trace the scalpels to a nearby surgical academy. The head of the academy, Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill), doesn't believe someone at the academy is the killer and asks police for a chance to prove this using his own scientific methods. Also on the trail of the killer is reporter Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy). Taylor is suspicious of Doctor Xavier but when he meets the doctor's daughter (Fay Wray) he becomes smitten. Allowed only 48 hours to prove his case, Xavier gathers all the suspects at his mansion to perform his experiment. But things don't go as planned and another murder is committed.

Doctor X is a classic horror-mystery that has many points of interest for film fans. For starters, the two-color Technicolor process it was filmed in was new for the time. It also has great Max Factor makeup that looks especially nice in the early Technicolor. Another thing, it's a pre-Code film. Cannibalism, a major part of the plot, wouldn't have been allowed just a short time later. Lastly it's the horror debut of one of the greats of the genre, Lionel Atwill. Atwill would go on to a great career making many horror films, including two more with Wray the following year. He always brought class and dignity to his usually villainous roles. He's great here as well.

The major complaint about the film seems to be directed at Lee Tracy's comic character. He is probably the worst part of the movie, but not because his performance is bad. He does fine with what he's supposed to do. It's just that comedy in horror films is usually best left to minor supporting roles not for the male lead in the film. However, I personally feel he's not obnoxious enough to hurt the film significantly. It's still very fun and very interesting, both from a film history perspective as well as sheer entertainment value. I would recommend all fans of classic horror films check it out.
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I Eat Your Flesh!
Robert J. Maxwell25 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This is old-fashioned fun.

Lionel Atwill is Dr. Xavier who runs the experimental "Academy for Surgical Research" on a cliff top on the Long Island shore. His three colleagues, each a physically impaired, troglodytic drone, are hard at work on their searches for new discoveries. The three weirdos include a one-eyed man, a cripple, and Preston Foster, who has only one hand. Atwill's daughter runs around breathlessly, as only Fay Wray can be breathless. A spooky servant named Otto lurches around in the background. Lee Tracy is one of those scurrying reporters from "The Front Page." The Madam in the cat house is played by the ever popular Mae Busch.

A couple of murdered bodies show up and are taken to the Academy for examination. Atwill concludes that they were subject to cannibalistic gnawing after being strangled. The police determine that all signs point to the murderer's being a member of the Academy. Only Foster is exempt from suspicion because the killer used two hands. ("Note the deep depressions on the sternocleidomastoid.") Fortunately, Atwill has a device -- I forget what he calls this sublimely typical piece of 1930s-movies electronic junk -- that will uncover the identity of the murderer by reenacting the last murder, the killing of a young woman, using his daughter as the victim. At a critical moment during the demonstration the lights go out. There is a shriek, a scuffle, furniture tumbles over, and when the lights come back on nobody has been exposed, not even Fay Wray.

With the cops pressing him, Atwill goes through the routine a second time but the protocol has been changed. Otto will lock the laboratory door from the outside, so no one can get in. Atwill himself will participate in the experiment. He and the two other suspects will be handcuffed to their bolted chairs. Only Preston Foster will be loose to manage things.

Medical ethics prevent any further plot revelations except maybe for one hint. Letting Foster and Fay Wray be the only two people not handcuffed to their chairs? That was a big mistake.

It's short, recklessly headlong in its pace. Director Michael Curtiz was never known for slow slogs through metaphysical swamps. The two-strip technicolor images are not bad for their time. You have your choice of tints -- ghoul green or cadaver mauve. The set borrows heavily from German expressionism. There's hardly a right angle in the joint, so to speak. And you must admire the way every wall looks shabby, dirty, like that of a tenement kitchen.

Your final paragraph, Buckie, is here. I recommend the movie. I mean, what the hell. We've all spent less pleasant hours than we'd spend watching this. Why, I remember once, the dentist asking me to "Turn this way a little." What an hour THAT was.
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X Marks the Spot OR Does It?
BaronBl00d16 September 2007
Very early horror entry from Warner Brothers on the heels of Universal's success with Dracula and Frankenstein. Rather than use older, more costly period piece backdrops for their horror movie stories, Warner Brothers innovatively(and frugally I might add) decided to use modern settings and modern "monsters." Doctor X is a fast-paced thriller about a moon killer that strangles his victims and uses a very sharp surgical instrument to dissect them for...let's just say its seems for a late midnight snack. The story for its time is quite shocking, and director Michael Curtiz(of Casablanca fame) has obvious talent creating ominous moods, dark, barely-lit streets, and hands coming out of the darkness. Lionel Atwill, the oily/suave-British-character actor stalwart, plays Doctor X, a man who tries to find the moon killer from his scientific institution rather than have the police bring the school's name in the mud. Doctor X is himself a suspect and the cast of doctors along with John Wray and Preston Foster is an eccentric bunch indeed. Atwill and his scientific cronies give solid performances as does Fay Wray as Atwill's daughter and the love interest of reporter Lee Tracy. Tracy; however, tries to give more of a comedic turn as the stereotypical wise-cracking, joke-buzzer-in-hand reporter out to get a story no matter what. He really got on my nerves with his portrayal and obvious shortcomings as a thespian. But the film zips by and has a whole lot of punch for its day.
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