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Doctor X More at IMDbPro »

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A horror Classic

Author: JoeB131 from United States
24 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was the archetype for the dark old house films of this era, with classic horror actors Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill in the starring roles. (Atwill never really gets credit, he was much a feature of classic horror films as Lugosi and Karloff, but only film buffs really know who he is.)

The film was also famous for one of the first attempts to use Technicolor in a commercial film, albeit not successfully.

The plot is simple, a number of murders with cannibalism have been committed (absolutely shocking in 1932 before the Hayes Code)and the suspects are a group of doctors at Doctor Xaiver's academy. (Must avoid X-men joke.) IN a rather convoluted experiment, Dr. X attempts to trap the killer using some fancy machine. It really borders on science fiction.

this was before Hollywood movies fully understood the concept of tone and put elements of horror and comedy into the same film. And some of the acting and dialog was pretty corny, but keep in mind, they were only used to doing movies with sound for less than a decade at that point. In many ways, actors still acted like they were on stage in a theater, because cinema hadn't entirely developed as an art form yet.

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I Eat Your Flesh!

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
25 January 2010

*** This review may contain 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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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: flapdoodle64 from Portland, OR, United States
11 March 2010

On the whole, this film is an agreeable and interesting waste of time, yet doesn't pack nearly the punch of its peers, which include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, King Kong, Mystery in the Wax Museum, etc.

The major flaw is that there is an excess of comic relief. Being adapted from a stage play, this is understandable. Live theater usually requires more laughs, even in mostly serious productions, than does film. Filmmakers were still relatively new to talkies, and talking horror movies were definitely a novelty when this was made.

Fright films do need some comic relief, so as to avoid the problem of having the audience laugh at the monsters. James Whale took this concept as far as possible with Bride of Frankenstein; but Dr. X goes a little farther than it should, and so you have this uneven feel, with one foot in the world of comedy, and one foot in the world of horror.

On the plus side, there is Lionel Atwill, one of the greatest villains of the classic period of the movies, and you have Fay Wray, who was always a pleasure to watch. And you have a fairly original plot and a whodunit, and you have weird mad scientists, and a bizarre lab. And you have a truly creative and macabre make-up job by the legendary Max Factor: I don't know if he did any other horror make-up besides this film.

So far as I know, this is the earliest film to have 'X' prominently in the title, referring to Dr. Xavier and to the unknown villain both. There were later scifi/horror films with the titles 'X: the Unknown' and 'X: the Man with the X-Ray Eyes', and in 1963 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the now famous comic book 'X-Men', led by Dr. Charles Xavier. Of course, in the 1990's, the 'X-Files' became a hit on TV and at the cinema.

Overall, this film is interesting, but flawed. I'd recommend it only after you've had a chance to see the other films mentioned in paragraph 1 of this review.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"Only stiffs go in there tonight".

Author: classicsoncall from United States
25 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Though I probably would have enjoyed this film more in glorious black and white, I'd have to agree with other posters on this board invoking some measure of approval for the early experimentation with Technicolor photography. Depending on the source, I think the color rendition might vary; my viewing on Turner Classics this morning seemed to favor blues and browns, where other reviewers mentioned more in the way of greens. Either way, the creepiness factor is evident enough in this tale of murder and cannibalism, a subject I thought would have been taboo this early in film history.

The always reliable Lionel Atwill is the Dr. X of the title, short for Xavier, and head of the Academy of Surgical Research. His colleagues are a suspicious enough looking bunch, as they become the targets of a police investigation due to the surgical precision involved in the crimes committed. I was particularly impressed with the silhouette of Doctor Haines, the couple times it appeared he looked like the devil's shadow. Fay Wray is on hand as Madame X, that is, Dr. Xavier's daughter, getting a chance to audition her scream for the following year's memorable "King Kong".

What I like the most about these period horror films is the great use of pseudo-scientific jargon that supports the story line. Dr. Xavier has his theories about mental repression and phobias, and his lab equipment is designed to check the variability of blood reaction when agitated in thermal tubes. All of that's forgotten though when the time comes to reveal the real killer. Professor Wells' (Preston Foster) 'synthetic flesh' transformation scene is remarkably done, and one of his intermediate faces reminded me of Freddie Krueger.

What the film didn't need were those annoying segments when Daily World reporter Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy) got into the act with his ill fated comedic attempts. That merely brought down the fear factor and added a clunky flow to the story. Topping all of that off was that incongruous beach scene with Lee and Joan (Wray), which had absolutely no other reason to be in the film to my mind, other than to add a bit of cheesecake to the picture. But who's looking for that in a 1930's horror/crime story?

In 1939, First National Pictures released "The Return of Doctor X", and without knowing the history behind it, I can't really say whether that film was meant to be an intentional sequel to "Doctor X". That film offered Humphrey Bogart in his most unusual film role, that of Dr. Maurice Xavier as a vampire! The story also had murder victims drained of their blood as a central plot element, but that might be the only reliable connection between the two pictures. No reference was made to the Atwill character that I can recall, but writing about it now makes me want to go back and watch it again.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Must...Get Past....Lee Tracey....

Author: jjsmith39
27 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Strangely enough, as I was watching the first half of this movie and wondering whose casting couch Lee Tracey landed on to get a role that was potentially destroying this movie, I found myself thinking of Anthony Wong's cop in "Daughter of Darkness" and how I thought the same thing as I first sat through that one....

Fortunately, as with Daughter of Darkness, I stayed with Dr. X right up to the classic pay-off scene that reveals the killer's identity. It's still one of the best after 75 years. The only ending more horrifying I can think of is if Lee Tracey had pulled out a red rubber nose, slapped it on his face, and started hissing, "Synnn-thetic jokes..." The real revelation for me, seeing this movie for the first time since - oh, about 1967 - is Lionel Atwill's performance. Aside from the villain's scene stealing finale, Atwill absolutely took ownership this film. And he saved this film from Lee Tracey...

Fay Wray adds name value to Dr. X, but nothing else really as she was a year away from hitting the jackpot in "King Kong" and giving her best performance (IMO) in The Most Dangerous Game.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:


Author: AaronCapenBanner from North America
20 October 2013

Lionel Atwill stars as Dr. Jerry Xavier, head of a surgical academy that has come under suspicion when a gruesome series of murders committed by the "moon killer" are traced there. Dr. X decides to conduct his own investigation, which lead to two different tests to find the culprit, one of which involves his daughter Joanne(played by Fay Wray) A wisecracking newspaper reporter(played by Lee Tracy) is also investigating. Is the killer at the Academy, and will he be caught before another killing? Michael Curtiz directed this early "2-strip" Technicolor film, but it wasn't worth the effort, despite the good cast, this is mostly dull and talky, though (at times) amusingly melodramatic.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Doctor X

Author: Scarecrow-88 from United States
12 November 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dead-on-Arrival pacing and excessive attempts at unsuccessful humor plague what could've been a very satisfying psychological character study about a serial killer who preys on victims during the Full Moon cutting into their skulls while also cannibalizing them. Lionel Atwill portrays Doctor Xavier..called on by police to find the killer amongst his staff of colleagues working at his institution. Fay Wray portrays Xavier's daughter, who will be the female in danger, and Lee Tracy is the wisecracking reporter. To snuff out the psychopath, Xavier will gather his scientists together at his château for the next 48 hours(the police gave him a time-line to find the killer or they would all be under arrest).

While at times a trial to sit through, director Curtiz is a marvelous artist who frames stunning shots utilizing the two-strip Technicolor and terrific sets to maximum effect. Yet, he can not overcome a very slow-moving plot, Fay Wray's annoying screaming for no reason, Lee Tracy's very dated and boring comic interludes, and hammy overacting.

I think the most intriguing and chilling portion of the film come at the end when we are introduced to the killer for the first time when shapes himself as a beast through synthetic flesh.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A film deserving of the DVD treatment

Author: BijouBob8mm from United States
20 April 2005

This is one of two Technicolor films to pair Fay Eray and Lionel Atwill with director Michael Curtiz (although Wray and Atwill would appear in the horror film VAMPIRE BAT, without the benefit of Technicolor or Curtiz). With DOCTOR X's companion film, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM now out on DVD (it's one of the bonus features on the Vincent Price version of HOUSE OF WAX), it would be nice to see this early Technicolor horror classic on DVD as well. They could double it up with the Black & White version filmed simultaneously. (Unlike HOUSE OF WAX, whose B&W print was taken from the same negative as the color version, DOCTOR X actually shot an alternate black and white version at the same time the color version was being filmed...a fact that annoyed Technicolor. A comparison of the two films shows various differences in camera angles, etc.) Perhaps, if there is room, they could even throw in the obscure Warner Brothers' RETURN OF DOCTOR X, notable as being Humphrey Bogart's only horror film.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Horrifying for its time

Author: h_olu from United States
10 October 2005

is this the one where Lionel Atwill is wearing a mask hiding a disfigured face, or it Mystery at the Wax Museum? I think Fay Wray said even SHE was unprepared for the look she revealed as she pulled the mask off. Therefore she WAS momentarily horrified by what she saw. Why don't I see this flick on TV more often, it was one of those pictures that when i saw it,at 300 in the morning it scared the HELL out of me. I've only seen it maybe twice, but it had a profound impression on me as far as horror movies go. It also seemed that Ms. Wray's stock-in-trade was screaming at the top of her lungs all the time. Would you consider her the ORIGINAL scream queen.

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8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

A Question of Morals

Author: Jim Retzer ( from Phoenix, Arizona
2 March 2002

What exactly is the nature of the relationship between Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray in this film?

Atwill refers to her as his "daughter" and she reciprocally refers to him as her "father." HOWEVER she also calls him "darling" more than once...

Their behavior towards each other is also rather questionable. For example, while the kisses they exchange are properly chaste, Atwill delivers the gesture stiffly and almost guiltily. And it is clear to anyone that Fay Wray is expecting a lot more than a peck on the cheek.

Their scenes together are drenched with an uncomfortable degree of sexual tension -repression, actually. Is it possible that amid all the lurid dialogue and oddball characters Curtiz thru in a bit more forbidden plot...

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