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You've got to see it to believe it. Bogie in makeup looking ghostly white
with a white streak in his hair, in a combination Frankenstein and vampire
horror film. It actually happened, due to knuckleheads at Warner Bros. who
put him in this film against his wishes. I was amused as well as amazed
throughout, and enjoyed watching Bogie stroke his pet rabbit and playing it
all straight. Others in the cast (Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane and Dennis
Morgan) were fine, but Bogie is the only reason to see this movie. Be
prepared to shake your head in disbelief.
The movie must have gone through some heavy editing, because there were many credit errors. First, the end credits bill Wayne Morris as Walter Barnett, but he is called Walter Garrett in the movie throughout and that name is also printed in newspapers several times. Next, Charles Wilson is billed as Detective Ray Kincaid, but he is called Roy throughout. Finally, many of the actors who were supposed to be in the movie never turn up, including two who were credited onscreen - Howard Hickman and Arthur Aylesworth.
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (Warner Brothers, 1939) directed by Vincent
Sherman, is in retrospect, not a sequel to the 1932 early two-strip
Technicolor mystery, DOCTOR X (First National) that featured Lionel
Atwill and Fay Wray, but actually a Grade Z programmer surprisingly
headed by a very interesting cast of non-horror actors. Regardless of
what's displayed on screen, in capable hands this might have worked as
one of the finer "B" films of the horror or science fiction genre.
Production values, though, are on a larger scale than any poverty row
horror film from Monogram Studios, and slightly beneath what Universal
would start producing by the mid 1940s. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X,
however, as the title indicates, is a story about a scientist. The
scientist in question is not Doctor X, but on a Doctor Francis Flegg
(John Litel) whose profession is on blood experiments.
Plot: Walter Barnett (Wayne Morris), a hapless reporter from Wichita, Kansas, working for the Morning Dispatch in New York City, arranges for an interview with European actress, Angela Merrova (Lya Lys), currently staying at the Park Vista Hotel. Later that day, Barnett (whose spoken surname sounds more like Garrett) comes to her hotel room to find her dead, stabbed through the heart. After telephoning the news to the city editor about his discovery, the news about Merrova's death makes the front page. However, rather than getting a promotion, Barnett is called to his editor's office to find not only Angela Merrova to be sitting there very much alive (in spite of her dead white appearance), but to be suing the Morning Dispatch of $100,000 for damages on her reputation. Fired from his job, Barnett comes to Jules Memorial Hospital where he tells his intern friend, Michael Rhodes (Dennis Morgan), of the circumstances, which Rhodes finds hard to believe. Stanley Rodgers (John Ridgely), a blood donor specialist scheduled to arrive at the hospital for a transfusion prior to an operation performed by Doctor Francis Flegg (John Litel), is found dead. Barnett notices Rodgers has died in the same fashion as Angela Merrova. Through a series of investigations, it is learned that any patient with Type One blood (the same blood type of Rodgers) has disappeared from the hospital, leaving the victims drained of their blood. As Rhodes goes to Doctor Flegg for a visit, he's followed inconspicuously by Barnett. Before meeting with Flegg, Rhodes is met by Flegg's laboratory assistant (Humphrey Bogart), whose ghost-like facial features and acquiring his icy cold and shake indicates that there's something entirely strange and mysterious about him. As for Barnett (peeking through the windows), believing he's seen this man before, goes through the file room of the Morning Dispatch looking for clues. He discovers through old newspaper clippings that Flegg's assistant bears some connection to the recently executed Doctor X.
Featured in the supporting cast are: Rosemary Lane (Joan Vance, the student nurse); Huntz Hall (Pinky, the newspaper copy boy); Charles C. Wilson (Detective Roy Kincaid); and Vera Lewis (Nurse Sweetman). Olin Howland playing the morgue attendant is very amusing with his "dead-on" sense of humor.
Zombie-like creatures, including Bogart (billed as Marshall Quesne, but who refers himself to the name that sounds more like "Kane," sporting glasses and a streak of white hair down his head) and Lya Lys, in desperate need for specific rare blood types in order to stay alive and roaming the city, makes THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X quite interesting in plot though sometimes unbearable with its over abundance of "comedy relief" by Wayne Morris. What makes this "thriller" watchable is the unusual casting of the soon to be "superstar" Humphrey Bogart, then a resident Warner Brothers stock player notable for playing gangster-types. While Boris Karloff, who specialized in roles as this, was appearing in programmers at Warners (1938-40), makes one wonder why he wasn't awarded the role given to Bogey instead. Maybe because that's to be expected. With Bogart, it's not, which is why it makes fantastic viewing during of 62 minutes. Another point of interest is finding Bogart's name billed third during the opening credits, and star credit for its closing cast listing. With its sci-fi influence, THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is campy, often amusing, and seldom scary. It does offer Rosemary Lane a rare opportunity enacting the frightful heroine quite commonly found in horror films, as well as an opportunity to belt out a scream or two while tied onto a laboratory table as she's to become the next victim of losing her blood. In traditional Bogart form, the story does find time for some gun play and car chases down the city streets. As for Dennis Morgan, who began his movie career for MGM under the name of Stanley Morner, makes a fine serious-minded secondary character in his Warner Brothers debut. He would soon rise to leading roles within a few years, becoming best known for his frequent partnership opposite Jack Carson in a series of Technicolor musical-comedies throughout the 1940s.
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X, thus far, has never been distributed on video cassette. It currently plays on Turner Classic Movies, especially in October in collaboration of Halloween and other horror flicks. (**1/2 blood transfusions)
Bogart has been given a bad press for his role in "The Return of Doctor
X." Why he even gave himself a bad press, saying the role was forced on
him by the studio, a role intended for Boris Karloff. But actually
Bogart's performance is one of the best ingredients in this campy
flick. Bogart's two really terrible acting attempts were the same year
in "The Oklahoma Kid," where he tried to play dastardly villain, Whip
McCord, and "Dark Victory," where Bogart is completely miscast as an
Irish horse trainer.
Nineteen thirty nine must have been Bogart's quirky year. He finally found himself in the early 1940's and with "The Maltese Falcon" became a screen icon. In "The Return of Doctor X," with his chalky makeup and streaked hair, Bogart resembles a punk rocker before his time.
The film is not bad entertainment. The weakest part is the attempt by Wayne Morris to be funny. He thinks falling into a room by leaning against a supposedly locked door which suddenly opens is hilarious. So much so that he does it twice. The funniest character is Huntz Hall early in his career. There is one funny line from Morris. After digging up Quesne's body and in a hurry to leave, morris tells the caretaker to "put it back," then rushes off.
The acting is top notch with the best performance coming from John Litel, closely matched by Bogart's left-field mad dead doctor. All in all a curious and worthwhile film, especially for Bogart fans.
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.
Had this film not cast Humphrey Bogart as the title mad scientist, this
film would probably regarded as just another 1930's big studio "B"
Bogart tries hard , but he is Bogart, and its just to hard to take seeing
him playing an executed mad scientist brought back from the dead who is
a scientific vampire. Supposedly, Boris Karloff was slated to play the
role, but was not available.
I have to admit I was very impressed with the films art direction (credited to Esdras Hartley.) The laboratory of Dr. Flegg consists of a maze of glass tubes dripping a dark fluid in beakers, and has the look of a giant circulatory system, reflecting the films emphasis on blood.
Hollywood legend has it that Bogart was having trouble with WB brass at the time with the type roles they were giving him. The WB brass wanted to punish him by casting him in this and KING OF THE UNDERWORLD in order show Bogie who was boss.
This picture isn't bad at all, and is quite entertaining. It's problem
is that it isn't very credible. In order to enjoy it one has to put
oneself back into the spirit of the late thirties, as the nation was
still reeling from the Depression and very much in need this sort of
Basically it's a mad doctor movie mixed with the sort of breezy newspaper comedy (such as His Girl Friday) then popular. The story has little to do with the first Doctor X movie, which is quite different. Vincent Sherman directs his scenes for maximum suspense and energy, and makes a go at a contemporary horror film set in New York, with brownstones, hospitals and funeral parlors filling in for the usual old dark houses and castles. He succeeds very nicely.
The young leading players are likable but unexceptional. John Litel is, however, very fine as a sane doctor being manipulated by a mad one. The most notable casting is Humphrey Bogart as the resurrected Dr. X, and he is if nothing else visually striking, with his chalky face and hair with a white streak down the middle. He is altogether too familiar to be convincing in the role, which he handles competently.
Overall, I think it's fair to say the movie wasn't meant to be taken too seriously. It was made at a time when horror movies were made for fun as much as fright. Taken on its own terms it delivers the goods, and makes the Warners' standard issue New York streets look as spooky as a graveyard at Halloween.
Fast, spry and completely forgettable except for one thing -- Humphrey Bogart, only months away from super-stardom, was assigned against his will to play the villain. His first appearance -- made up to look like a dime-store mannequin, cradling a rabbit in his arms -- is perhaps the most priceless entry in the huge gallery of star-embarrassments.
I love this film and that's the reason I'm adding a review to a film
that already has 30 reviews. First of all, many previous reviewers
complain that this is not a typical horror movie from the period. For
example there is no Karloff or Lugosi in a starring role. That is true,
but the film plays more like a breezy, fast paced Warner Bros. B' crime
film. I have no problem with that. Although the horror isn't stressed,
the finale with Bogart taking the girl to the abandoned farm house is
I argue with those saying the cast isn't very good. While Bogart isn't at home playing a corpse who has returned to life, he doesn't disappoint. John Litel, is over the top (and great) as the doctor who returns Bogart from the dead. Finally Wayne Morris, who is the real star of the film, plays the wise guy reporter investigating the strange happenings. The rest of the cast is well above average for a "chunk it out as fast as possible" B' picture. This includes, Dennis Morgan, Rosemary Lane, Huntz Hall, and the spooky Lya Lys.
This is no masterpiece, but this is fast and fun and never boring for a second. Ah, if only there were only more films like this. Who doesn't love a Bogart zombie film? Must viewing for any film buff.
As others have pointed out, this really isn't a sequel to the 1932 film
"Doctor X." Too bad....it might have been better had it been. Not that
this is bad; it isn't, but isn't anything to write home about, either.
Thanfully, it's only 62 minutes. Had this been 20 minutes longer, it
would have been a yawner.
First, for a "horror" picture, this isn't much horror. Actually there is no horror, nothing in here that is going to frighten the most timid of souls. The only strange- looking person is Humphrey Bogart and all classic film buffs will do is laugh when they see "Bogie" in here. With a plastic-looking face and some weird hair coloring, you want to laugh out loud when you first see him.
Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan are the real stars of the film. They are in almost every scene, with Morris as reporter "Walter 'Wichita' Garrett" and Morgan as "Dr. Mike Rhodes." John Litel plays a Dr. Frankenstein-type character in "Dr. Flegg," a key member of this cast.
This movie is almost all talk until the 59-minute mark when "Dr. X" makes a run for it and gets involved in gunfire. Yet, it's never boring, either. The scenes move quickly from place to place and plays more like a crime film than anything else. Typical of early '30s crime movies, we get some corny humor from one of the characters, in this case from Morris.
Kudos to the Hollywood Legends Of Horror series to make this DVD transfer so nice looking. It's part of an attractive package of 1930s horror films.
Many of these low budget films made by First National in the late 1930's, sort out many up and coming movie stars. There was other films called "The Strange Case of Dr. RX (Universal 1942) They knew that Humphrey Bogart was a great star in "Dead End" 1937, so they hired Bogart, who was willing to play any character he was offered at the time, when money was very hard to come by as an actor just starting out in films. Wayne Morris (Walter "Wichita" Garrett) played a dippy newspaper reporter, but in real life was a War Hero in WWII and starred in "Paths of Glory" which was a great success. If you look close, Huntz Hall (Pinky) who was one of the Bowery Boys and also appeared in "Dead End" '37 as "Dippy" all were starting their careers. No matter what you think of this film, you have to consider the background years when this film was made and enjoy seeing great actors JUST STARTING OUT IN LIFE !
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