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A serial killer is stalking New York . At the time of the full moon he
strikes and the victims bodies show signs of cannibalism . Newspaper
reporter Lee Taylor in needing of a big scoop to keep his job tries to
track down the killer and suspicions fall upon a group of doctors
Hungarian born Michael Curtiz could possibly be the greatest film director of the 20th Century . If you look through his resume on this website you'll see a long list of films that are legends from the golden era of Hollywood . He didn't confine himself to one genre but what ever type of film he made he could often weave cinematic magic . This early Hollywood contribution from Curtiz however isn't as good as it could have been
DOCTOR X is an infuriating combination of good and bad . Based upon a stage play Curtiz manages to hide its origins and keeps the story pacing along nicely . He also manages to bring some very impressive directorial flourishes such a the introduction of Doctor Haines seen as a somewhat satanic silhouette against a wall . The problem with much of the visuals however is that its shot in early colour stock which is rather distracting . One can't help thinking black and white would have been much more suited to the movie and would have made for a better and much more atmospheric movie
The fundamental problem with DOCTOR X is a very inconsistent tone with comedy elements that clash painfully with the darker themes . The killer is a cannibal and this shocking element is emphasised at every opportunity . Of course even in a pre-code era mutilated and half eaten bodies dripping blood couldn't be shown but this is explicitly alluded to through the dialogue of Dr Xavier . Strange then that Lee Taylor is written and played by Lee Tracy as a comedic character . Comedy is a subjective thing , one person's comedic genius is another person's irritating clown but it's amazing anyone thought Taylor/Tracy could be amusing in anyway and every time he appears on screen the audience are taken out of the film . Perhaps James Whale would have been a better choice of director ?
As it stands DOCTOR X is a strange combination of good and band from an outstanding and superlative director . When the film works it works very well and I had no idea who the villain was going to be . Alas the elements that don't work sometimes threaten to sabotage the rest of the film and it would take another four or five years before Curtiz really hit his stride
What is the secret of Doctor Xavier's Academy of Surgical Research, where nearby a grisly murder occurs each month during the full moon? The mystery shouldn't be spoiled here, but it involves cannibalism, sleeping gas, schizophrenia, and synthetic flesh. All this is more than enough to keep wisecracking ace reporter Lee Tracy busy, with two or three interludes reserved for dalliance with Fay Wray. Goodness knows if this macabre Vitaphone curiosity was meant to be taken seriously, but the restored two-tone Technicolor print is enormously entertaining when seen today. The film's thick Gothic mood and décor (with all it's flashing and crackling laboratory hardware) will certainly recommend it to fans of early Hollywood horror esoterica.
"Doctor X" is probably best remembered as an early two strip
Technicolor movie (it was also filmed simultaneously in B & W) rather
than as the horror/comedy its supposed to be. Granted, the settings and
the color photography are excellent, I just didn't like picture all
that much overall. The film could have been a great horror film but for
the comical interludes that we find throughout. Director Michael Curtiz
did the best he could with a weak and confusing script.
The "full moon strangler" has been murdering people during full moons and removing parts of the victims' flesh. Cannibalism? Hmmmm. Police Commissioner Stevens (Robert Warwick) has traced the suspected killer to the Academy of Surgical Research run by a Doctor Xavier (Doctor X--get it?). The suspects include Dr. Wells (Preston Foster), Dr. Haines (John Wray), Dr. Duke (Harry Baresford) and Dr. Rowitz (Arthur Edmund Carewe). All are engaged in various areas of medical research. One is identified as an expert in the the area of cannibalism so its not too difficult to identify the killer early on.
Thrown in with the horror element is comedy relief, provided by Lee Tracy as Reporter Lee Taylor and Leila Bennet as the Xavier's maid. For the romantic interest and plenty of screams is brunette Fay Wray as Xavier's daughter Joan. Although some laud the comedic segments, I for one feel that it spoils the whole film. It plays like a Bob Hope comedy a few years down the road.
The transformation of one of the doctors into the full-moon strangler is well done and the best part of the picture (synthetic flesh...ha, ha, ha). It reminds one of a similar sequence in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" released the same year. The scene where all of the doctors are all shackled in order to watch a re-enactment of the crime makes no sense to me at all.
Lionel Atwill is totally wasted hereto . He has nothing to do but roam between the various laboratories and comfort his nervous daughter. He would do much better in "Mystery of the Wax Museum", also in color, released the following year.Tracy is totally out of place as the wise cracking reporter. As I have said, without the comedic elements, this could have been a horror classic. And in pre-production code Hollywood, watch for Mae Busch as the Madame of an obvious house of ill repute.
One of the many jewels included in the new DVD box set "Hollywood Legends of Horror", Doctor X works far better as an horror film than a romantic comedy ,the other intention of the script. In fact Lee Tracy as the journalist almost ruined the entire picture, acting like a character in a Three Stooges short instead of an horror drama. But Lionel Atwill got a solid presence as Doctor Xavier, Fay Wray (before King Kong fame) as his daughter is delicious, and the rest of the cast is in top form. The sets deserves a special mention, visually stunning, and the two color system adds atmosphere. Of course, you can't see this kind of film with today's eyes, but a more candid approach will make you enjoy Doctor X as it deserves. Classic!
That two-tone coloring process lends the film a weird, even otherly
world, complexion. However, a number of compensations can't make up for
an erratic script, containing some good ideas, but unfortunately
developed in muddled fashion. Too many scenes don't follow effectively
on one another ( e.g. the focus shifts often and abruptly onto
peripheral characters). Nor can certain compensations make up for Lee
Tracy's inept comedy relief, which comes across more like silly
distraction. I agree that the culprit was too easy to spot, removing a
key element of plot suspense. On the other hand, some set-ups are
genuinely creepysinister shadows, sudden close-ups, the Jekyll-Hyde
transformationlikely director Curtiz's creative touches.
Maybe I shouldn't say it, but the normally sinister Lionel Atwill looks almost aristocratically handsome, playing the head of the clinic in uncharacteristically straight fashion. Still, I expected a maniacal cackle at some point. And, of course, the gruesome proceedings have to have a pretty girl to ease up on the eyes. Frankly, I liked the beach scene, where the luscious Wray bares the sort of curves that sent the big gorilla into a spin a year later. All in all, the premise of a faculty full of eccentrics one of whom is a killer may be a promising one. Nonetheless, in my little book, the script should have been sent back to re-write.
This is certainly not a classic horror film of the early 30s like "Dracula" or "Frankenstein," but one that is forgotten, but interesting in a way to watch. It is a terribly dated and hokey story of a doctor who suspects one of his medical college students is a notorious night killer. The settings, the Max Factor masks, and the usage of early two-color Technicolor is what makes the film, not so much anything else.
Very slow, creaky early two-color horror film. It's often paired with
"Mystery of the Wax Museum". "Mystery" is very good--this isn't.
There is someone going around killing people and then (partially) devouring certain parts of their body. They only do it when there's a full moon out and all the murders happen near an academy run by Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill). The police are certain that the killer is one of the doctors at the academy. Xavier says he'll figure out who the killer is within 48 hours. News reporter Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy) tries to find out what's going on. Also Fay Wray is around as Xavier's daughter Joanne.
The story is VERY slow moving (even at 77 minutes) and full of plot holes, unexplained occurrences (I'm still trying to figure out who gassed Tracey and why he was where he was at the end) and truly bizarre situations. Ever worse is the alleged comedy from Tracy. He's just simply not funny and his wisecracks get on your nerves. The best part of the picture is the unmasking of the killer on a dark and stormy night in a castle(!!!). Lionel Atwill (an excellent actor) seems bored in the lead role and Fay Wray (another good actor) does her best but can't overcome the script. To cap it off Warner released in on DVD in a version that looks terrible. The two color Technicolor looks washed out so badly that some scenes appear to be in black & white!
On the plus side, it DOES look great and hearing Wray rip out a few good, loud screams is always kind of fun. And Max Factor did the makeup! Still it's really slow going. "Ssssynthetic flessshhh!"
*** This review may contain 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Strikingly original in so many ways, DOCTOR X is an absolutely Must-See movie for Fright Film fans. The always dependable Lionel Atwill as the somewhat sinister (but ultimately upstanding) title character gives the ghastly goings-on a touch of Class, but it's Fay Wray who steals the show (as was her wont) as the lovely heroine. Lee Tracy gives it the old college try, but his antics are more tolerable the second time around than they are the first. The cannibalism angle was certainly one for the books way back when. (Adolf Hitler, who would become a vegetarian after his experiences in World War One trenches, is said to have likened "the look and taste of pork" to that of Human flesh. Which begs the question: "How did he KNOW that...?" Starvation is just one of the many benefits of War...) DOCTOR X takes place in a time when reporters were respected (and feared), unlike Today, when they're hounded and persecuted.
When Warner Brothers made their first two-color Technicolor talkie in
1932 on a VERY high budget, they took an enormous risk (Douglas
Fairbanks had taken that risk already 6 years before with the FIRST -
silent - Technicolor movie ever; but it was a great box office hit, of
course, since it was one of his great swashbucklers) - especially since
they chose the horror genre for their venture. Since Universal's horror
movies were great hits at the time, they decided to make their color
movie a horror movie as well; but not the good old-fashioned vampire
superstition Gothic horror, but a NEW kind of horror in every sense of
the word: the 'scientific' horror - and of course, there's a big
potential of horror in that field as well...
For some time, dreadful "Moon Murders" have been going on, where the victims are all literally being cannibalized and pieces of flesh cut out of their bodies with surgery instruments - and they all happen near the isolated house of Dr. Xavier, who has turned it into a laboratory where he and his colleagues work on various strange experiments... And cheeky (or at least, seemingly cheeky) young reporter Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy, who's setting the standards here for the typical 30s' movie reporters whom we all know and love so well) is determined to investigate in that curious 'lion's den' with skeletons, bubbling chemical substances and a bunch of weird scientists...
At the same time, he still finds an opportunity to flirt with Xavier's pretty daughter Joanne (Fay Wray, who would co-star with her 'father' Lionel Atwill in another two very successful horror movies, "The Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "The Vampire Bat") - and eventually, when during a criminological experiment that Doctor X. arranges in order to find the murderer she gets into mortal danger, he gets the chance to prove his 'heroism'; but will he really be able to do so??
This 'new' kind of horror proved VERY successful as a movie, highly suspenseful and yet at the same time entertaining, particularly well directed by Michael Curtiz, with a superb cast - and of course those fantastic colors that must have seemed like a miracle to the audience back then. And so it became a smash hit at the box office - and remains one of the very greatest horror classics until this day.
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