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The Return of Doctor X (1939)

Approved | | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 2 December 1939 (USA)
A hotshot reporter and a young doctor team up to investigate a series of grisly murders and a mysterious sample of synthetic blood.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Joan Vance
...
Walter Garrett
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Michael Rhodes
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Dr. Francis Flegg
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Angela Merrova
...
Pinky
Charles C. Wilson ...
Detective Roy Kincaid (as Charles Wilson)
Vera Lewis ...
Miss Sweetman
...
Chairman (scenes deleted) (as Howard Hickman)
...
Undertaker
...
Guide (scenes deleted)
Cliff Saum ...
Detective Sergeant Moran
...
Hotel Manager
John Ridgely ...
Rodgers
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Storyline

New York newspaper reporter Walter Barnett finds himself out of a job after he claims to have found actress Angela Merrova dead in her apartment - only the next day she showed up alive and threatened to sue the paper. Determined to investigate he discovers her involvement with a strange doctor who is an expert on human blood. Barnett then finds a connection to a series of gruesome murders where the victims were all found drained of blood. Written by Col Needham <col@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

He lives to kill and kills to live! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

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Release Date:

2 December 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Return of Dr. X  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Humphrey Bogart said of this film: "This is one of the pictures that made me march in to [Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner] and ask for more money again. You can't believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner's blood, or Harry's, or Pop's, maybe I wouldn't have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie." See more »

Goofs

When Angela Merrova faints, her head falls to her left; in the close-up her head is to her right. See more »

Quotes

Walter 'Wichita' Garrett: Maybe she's not dead.
Editor: If she's not dead, they're playing a dirty trick on her because they're taking her over to Bixby's Undertaking Parlor.
[to both Rhodes and Garrett]
Editor: Now get out of here both of you!
Walter 'Wichita' Garrett: Yes, sir!
Editor: [angrily] And don't come back!
[they leave]
Walter 'Wichita' Garrett: [to Rhodes] I won't believe she's dead 'til I see it with my own eyes. Even then I won't believe it!
See more »

Connections

References Frankenstein (1931) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Bogart's Contribution to the First Horror Film Cycle
12 October 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This film is important because it shows that even Hollywood legends need huge amounts of luck to avoid film oblivion. Bogie had been in Hollywood for four years in the early 1930s, and never hit a good film (although he did appear for his one and only time in that period with the young Spencer Tracy). He went back to his stage work in New York City, appeared in THE PETRIFIED FOREST, and returned to Hollywood with his friend Leslie Howard to make the film version there. After the filming of THE PETRIFIED FOREST Bogie was taken seriously as a supporting actor, getting important roles (though as villains) in films like DEAD END and THE ROARING TWENTIES, but also appearing as the lead in films like BLACK LEGION. But his anger at not getting the roles he felt he deserved led to friction with Jack Warner. Warner was like many gifted studio head - producers: he knew that you groom an actor you admire for the right break-out parts. Bogie would not wait, so Warner would punish him by giving him dreck like SWING YOUR LADY. He decided to give him this film too - Warner's answer to the Universal horror and science fiction cycle, THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X.

If this film had been made by Universal with Boris Karloff it is possible that the film would have been a 7 or 8 out of 10. Karloff or Lugosi or Atwill were able to project a mixture of scientific interest, curiosity, and sinister twisting to their scientists and their characters. Maybe it was the sound of their voices (with their staginess or their accents). Bogart did not have this. He sounded like an average Joe with a slight lisp. He just did not project a scientific gambler.

The plot of THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X has nothing to do with an earlier film DOCTOR X that starred Atwill and Fay Wray. That film was pretty good. It was about a series of murders apparently connected with a medical center, where Atwill is one of the leading doctors, and one of the suspects. The plot of THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is about a series of murders connected to apparent vampirism as the victims are drained of their blood. It turns upon the experiments of a Dr. Francis Flegg (John Litel - trying to be a crusading visionary, but hampered by poor dialog). Flegg is working on a study of human blood, with a way of possibly making an artificial version of it to extend life. However, he has had only one success - a strange man who works with him named Marshall Quesne (Bogart).

Bogart's make-up is the only really interesting thing about him. He has his hair parted in the center, with a white streak of hair in the middle, and wears pince-nez. His face is whitened to look like he is anemic. He tries to act self-deprecating, when talking to others like Wayne Morris (the reporter who is investigating the murders). But he only acts like he is sleep-walking through the lines. Except when he gets upset - at one point he notes part of Litel's blood experiment is failing (and he is very involved in making the experiment work). He starts yelling at Litel about this, much to Morris' interest. But those moments are few - too few.

If the rest of the film had anything going for it, Bogart's failure to make his character live would not matter. But it doesn't. Rosemary Lane and Dennis Morgan (and Morris) give good performances, but other actors (Fay Wray and Joel McCrae and Lee Tracy come to mind) would have vitalized the roles. Huntz Hall, as a newspaper copy-boy, has one good moment - he keeps teasing Morris for his theories regarding dead bodies of the victims in one scene by singing, "When a body meets a body coming through the rye" over and over again. But that said, the film is too flimsy to make one really care who did well in it. Fortunately for Bogie HIGH SIERRA and THE MALTESE FALCON would soon bring him his stardom, and CASABLANCA and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRES ensured it.

I give the film only a 3 out of 10, for it's value as a curiosity. The only issue left for me is how would Karloff have been as Captain Queeg or Lugosi as Fred C. Dobbs.


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