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This very minor Universal horror film from 1942 is significant for it
was the last time Lionel Atwill received a starring role in a film. He
was on the outs after this due to the sex scandal that ruined his
career and health. He played only minor roles after this and died 4
years later of cancer.
The film is very easy to be hard on and Universal has obviously regarded it so low, that it has never made it to video, despite the millions they still make off their classic horror films. What kills the film is a lack of mood or suspense. It is super-pedestrianly directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
What makes the film are the change-of-pace settings including a doomed cruise ship and an exotic island. The actors are all excellent too, even if Nat Pendelton and Una Merkel get a little tired with their comic relief act.
Ultimately, Atwill rules and is as menacing and sinister as ever. He revives a dead native and is revered as a god by the island tribe. He very selfishly dictates how the other ship survivors will live as only Atwill so slimily could (Sounds like a reality show plot). The other standout is Noble Johnson as the village leader. He is given more dialogue than he ever had in his many previous horror films and he ultimately gives Atwill a run for his money. It was nice to see him in a larger role.
Don't expect too much - this is a B film. Atwill fans will delight in seeing his last great lead performance. Atwill may have never had a definitive mad doctor film, but I've always regarded him as the maddest doctor of them all.
As some of you may know, for the longest time I was only familiar with
the more popular of the classic Universal horror/sci-fi films;
recently, however, I managed to get my hands on a number of their
lesser and/or non-monster outings – needless to say, few if any of
these proved as rewarding in the long run…though they were never less
than entertaining, something which the vintage Hollywood product could
always be relied upon to deliver.
This, then, marks Lionel Atwill’s last starring role as a result of his fall from grace in a trial which exposed scandalous behavior in private – and which would subsequently relegate him to Poverty Row or virtually nothing parts in Universal chillers! In any case, he gives the titular role his all – in fact, I don’t think I’d seen Atwill being so arrogant (spouting lines such as “I’ll be the most important man to have ever walked the earth” with complete immodesty, as if it was second nature to him!) and wild-eyed since the delightfully Pre-Code MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933). Incidentally, I may be attributing undue importance to the fact but I wonder whether the script intended to give his character’s ‘control’ over death a religious undertone – at one point, Atwill mentions that he’ll be able to bring back to life someone who’d been dead for three days (a reference to Jesus Christ?), while the unwilling ‘guinea pig’ hero is buried in the rocks and the entrance to the tomb covered by a huge stone (as we’re told in the Bible that Lazarus was)…!
Not knowing all that much about the film beforehand, I was surprised to see this turn out to be more of a jungle adventure (especially given the title) – following the opening moments set in the city and a brief stint on board ship which, pretty soon, ends up submerged and the only six survivors eventually land on a tropical isle. Atwill is a “pseudo-doctor” whose notorious experiments with suspended animation (recalling the Boris Karloff vehicle THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES ) has landed him in professional disrepute, not to mention in hot water with the Law – I’m sure the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on the beleaguered actor!; anyway, he flees on a cruise-liner traveling all the way to New Zealand and, as I said, ends up ashore in uncharted territory with a bunch of other passengers. This doesn’t stop him from continuing his experiments (for one thing, finding the locals convenient and gullible subjects) – actually, he’d been traveling incognito but, when the native leader’s woman goes into a coma from a heart attack, he can’t resist impressing them with his life-giving ‘magic’…after which they name him “God Of Life” and, naturally, he appoints himself there and then supreme ruler of the island (these obvious Fascist attributes more than anything expose it as a product of the war years)!
The film falls into a category best described as comedy-horror or, if you like, horror comic; neither element is really all that successful – though the former (provided by Una Merkel, top-billed despite her character being clearly of secondary interest[!], and Nat Pendleton) isn’t overly intrusive, the latter is too familiar to generate much suspense…while the jungle setting eschews the fog-laden atmosphere usually representing the ‘in-house’ Universal style! The remaining members from the civilized world are a selfish ship’s officer who leaves the others behind when attempting to flee the isle in a canoe – only to be killed by a native, and the obligatory romantic couple (Merkel’s niece and another former crew member of the sunken liner) – typically, the two had gotten off on the wrong foot but are slowly drawn together…especially after Atwill is persuaded into taking a wife by the native woman he ‘resuscitated’ and, naturally, singles out the heroine for this role. By the way, the film’s biggest laugh is an unintentional one: during Atwill and Claire Dodd’s marriage, following the native custom, some doubt is deliberately thrown by his companions on the unethical activity he leads, which causes the celebrations to cease abruptly – at which, perplexed, Atwill asks the native leader to order his men to “dance…or something” (as delivered by the actor in his inimitable high-strung fashion, it not only shows all too clearly the character’s disdain of their lot but definitely edges the film into camp territory; I know I couldn’t stop giggling for a good five minutes afterwards!).
His status on the island takes further beating when the native who killed the escaping officer also turns up dead; the hero – belatedly introducing himself as being well versed in medicine himself (a plot point so contrived as to smack of lazy scripting!) – knows that Atwill’s miracles were performed on people who only had the semblance of death, so that he’ll never be able to reap results in this particular case (though, up until this time, it was never intimated that he could be a charlatan but rather came across as typically misguided but genuinely obsessed!) and the natives will turn on him as a result…which they do in a fiery climax that barely registers (incidentally, some rather important exposition in the fast-paced 61-minute film is entirely by-passed or taken for granted). Tying with my comments about the same director’s CRIMINALS WITHIN (1943), which I’ve also just watched, Lewis’ hand is apparent here via his choice of odd angles on a number of occasions (though the shot of an intense Atwill approaching the camera, holding a chloroformed cloth to subdue an intended victim, is unfortunately diluted through sheer repetition!). By the way, the music for the film – credited solely to “Musical Director” Hans J. Salter – includes recognizable cues from Frank Skinner’s classic SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) score (Universal shamelessly, and habitually, re-cycled these…as hardened genre fans are surely aware!).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
They say that a great movie is one which transcends all genres, what
they didn't say is that a movie can cover all genres and not be great.
This belief of mine is reflected best by this obscure little programmer for Universal. This utterly mad little movie can't decide just what it wants to be. This can be considered a good thing or a bad thing, but the sudden shift in tone and settings definitely makes this one worth a watch.
The film begins like a noir thriller, as a man in a trench coat and fedora enters into a shadowy room in a shadowy building as lightning flashes and rain pours like a scene from a Will Eisner story. Then it shifts into horror mode as we meet mad doctor Ralph Benson( A delightfully deranged Lionel Atwill, yes our old friend from 'Doctor X'), who fouls up his experiment with suspended animation and accidentally kills his patient. Then it turns into a crime thriller as the police pursue Benson, then it becomes a murder mystery set aboard a ship where Benson kills a detective, then a romantic comedy, then a disaster movie, then a shipwreck adventure, then a redux of 'The Man Who Would Be King' with overtones of 'Hawaii' & the much later 'Gilligan's Island'.
Insanity, thy name is 'Mad Doctor of Market Street'.
That said, the film is fun to watch. The film's romantic lead initially starts out as yet another comedy relief character, then becomes a typical stolid hero after being upstaged by the heroine's obnoxious Aunt (Una Merkel, annoying as hell, but at least not as annoying as that other Una; 'O Connor.)and a rather likable big lug named Red(Nat Pendleton)in the comedy department. Such lines like the heading of my review abound, it's either charmingly cringe inducing, or infuriating depending on your point of view.
That said, Atwill gives a suitably creepy performance despite all the comedy, knowing when to ham it up and when to keep quietly restrained. An especially creepy moment is when he comes close to pointlessly murdering a curious native only to be narrowly stopped. There are some genuinely suspenseful moment as well, and when Benson is exposed by the natives it actually is a clever plot device. For such a stylistically disjointed film, it is amazingly cohesive, plot wise.
See this mad little movie to believe it.~
1941's "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" was the second time Lionel Atwill starred as a crazed scientist after receiving top billing over Lon Chaney in "Man Made Monster," but settled for second below Una Merkel here, who was coming off one of her best known roles, playing the ditsy daughter of W.C. Fields in "The Bank Dick." Una's likability survives intact, despite her unfunny material (can't say the same for Nat Pendleton). Nearing the end of her screen career was lovely Claire Dodd, busy at Universal that year ("The Black Cat" and Abbott and Costello's "In the Navy"), while cowardly scoundrel John Eldredge is in familiar form ("The Black Cat" and "Horror Island"). Even Noble Johnson ("King Kong") appears as a dignified native chief, not easy under such studio bound conditions. Atwill's Ralph Benson escapes a murder charge in San Francisco, only to wind up a prisoner on a South Sea island, until a demonstration of his technique on suspended animation on a supposedly dead native woman makes him 'God of Life' among the savages, who grant him his every wish. I certainly can't blame him for coveting Miss Dodd, just as he eyed beautiful Anne Nagel in "Man Made Monster" (here reduced to a cameo as his first victim's widow). Writer Al Martin earlier scripted Lugosi's "Invisible Ghost" (also directed by Joseph H. Lewis), and in 1957 turned out "Invasion of the Saucer Men," a rare science fiction comedy. Included in Universal's popular SHOCK! package of classic horror films issued to television in the late 50's, and aired 3 times on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater, Dec 18 1965 (following 1959's "The Hideous Sun Demon"), Dec 28 1974 (followed by 1970's "Night of the Witches"), and Sept 3 1977 (the first feature), paired with the only screening of 1934's "Secret of the Château" (a Claire Dodd double feature!).
Lionel Atwill lifted a few average horror films to the status of being tolerable. Luckily, he was able to achieve this by being a theatre- trained actor who was a genuine talent. "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" is a typical example. He plays another mad scientist who is forced to leave the United States after causing the death of a patient whilst conducting some bizarre experiments. Lionel Atwill finishes up by being shipwrecked on a desert island along with other people and then attempts to conquer the island's inhabitants. Strictly speaking, this is routine stuff but worth seeing...just.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET sadly marks the end to Lionel Atwill as a major star in Universal horror(and film in general)due to a sex scandal. I won't dwell on those details, instead focusing on his attributes as they pertain to THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET. He's the whole show in this rather mediocre island mad scientist thriller as the diabolical antics of Atwill's crazed, narcissistic Dr. Ralph Benson put the lives of stranded passengers in danger as the restless, superstitious natives consider him a "god of life" when he heals one of their own, a woman who had a heart attack. Benson pretends he brought this woman back from the dead and is heralded by the jungle natives who grant him all the amenities he so desires, living it up as a king, his own hut, and the ability to command the other passengers out of the village until he wishes to experiment on them in regards to suspended animation. Benson was a fugitive on the lam(his experiment led to the death of a human guinea pig), having boarded a cruise for another country. Benson causes a fire on the liner, resulting in everyone on board having to leave the ship. He boards a canoe with Aunt Margaret(Una Merkel), who expected to marry a wealthy man in Australia, her niece, Patricia(Claire Dodd), a boxer preparing for a big fight(Nat Pendleton, playing his character as if he had been hit in the head a few too many times in the ring), and two members of the cruise's crew, Jim(Richard Davies)and Dwight(John Eldridge). They must determine how to get off the island as Benson has become power mad, with designs on marriage with Patricia and experimenting on the men of the group. Atwill was always adept at portraying crazy-eyed scientists who besmirched anyone that attempted to defy him, taking advantage of the weak and vulnerable, as was the case in this film as he promised to pay his subject 1000 dollars to the man's family in exchange for his willingness to volunteer for his suspended animation experiment. The title is a bit misleading as I imagine many, like I was, will enter the film expecting a mad scientist performing his experiments on innocents in and around his laboratory on Market Street. Then the movie's plot moves to the luxury liner where we are led to believe that Benson may prey on passengers while on the cruise. And finally the film shifts to the island paradise where Benson uses the backwards customs and beliefs of natives to his advantage, later paying the price when Jim finds a dead primitive, orchestrating a revolt if the mad doctor can not revive him. It's a shame that Atwill's career, like so many other treasures icons of Universal horror, would end so badly, but we can always return to his films time and again, relishing his colorful madmen, scientists, and village policemen. His presence, no matter how small the part, always caught my attentiom, as I imagine it did to many of his other fans as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alright, let's get the story out of the way: "The Mad Doctor of Market
Street" tells the tale of "Dr." Ralph Benson, a hobby scientist who
likes to do occasionally fatal experiments in the fields of
resuscitation and suspended animation. When the law catches up with
him, he attempts to flee the country, but alas, his means of
transportation sinks into the Atlantic ocean, where he ends up washed
ashore an island with a handful of other survivors. There, Doc Benson
sees a chance to continue his experiments, as he manages to fool the
resident tribals into thinking he could bring the dead back to life.
No one's ever pulled off the classic mad scientist with quite as much cold, sociopathic, yet strangely gleeful enthusiasm as Lionel Atwill did. It was for this very reason that I sought out this movie, and as it turned out, it was also its only saving grace. It's not that the movie is lousily produced; quite the contrary. The production values are rather high, as evidenced by the convincing and rather varied sets. What mars this one is simply the lack of a clear thematic focus. The movie shifts between wacky comedy, island romance, morbid medical thriller and (very mild) science fiction pretty much by the minute. I suppose this *could* all work together, but in this one, these elements just don't blend very well. Whenever there's a sense of tension, one of the comic relief characters pulls a stupid face or says something silly. Whenever the mood is lighthearted and even romantic, someone dies or Doc Benson schemes evilly. There's also a tad bit too much going on in terms of threats and dangers. The supposed villain of the movie is the titular doctor, but the real dangers are a fire on and the subsequent sinking of the ship, and a tribe of islanders, who are always on the verge of burning the group of survivors at the stakes for superstitious reasons. In between all of this, Doc Benson is more of an opportunistic, overachieving charlatan than a properly menacing villain, which only adds to the movie's overall vibe of inconsistency.
Literally the only thing that manages to be consistent throughout is Atwill's performance. It's just a delight to watch him deliver his admittedly awesomely megalomaniac lines (the character refers to himself as the "God of Life" and aspires to become the "greatest man who has ever set foot on this earth") with this unique inflection of his. Ultimately, this is why I'm giving this a 6 instead of the maybe much more appropriate 4. As mediocre as everything else about it may be, there's no denying that this one really is an absolute treat for Atwill fans.
Lionel Atwill plays Br Benson a scientist experimenting with suspended
animation. Atwill has found a way of putting animals in to suspended
animation, then curing their disease and then bringing them back to
life. Unfortunately when he tries to move to people the good doctor
finds that he can not revive his subjects thus provoking the police to
look for the murderer. Fleeing he boards a ship and heads for the south
seas. When the ship catches fire, Atwill and several other survivors
end up on an island where Atwill uses his medical tricks to enslave the
B movie or not this is a mess of a movie. The film starts okay, with Atwill trying his experiment on a man trying to get money for his family. The police burst in and he's forced to flee. After that comedy sets in and the film doesn't know what it wants to be. Once the ship sinks and the survivors end up on the island things become a mixed bag.
Its it suppose to be serious or a comedy? First billed Una Merkel makes me think it was a comedy. Merkel as a crazy woman going to New Zealand for the fifth time to find love would usually be in the background to Atwill's craziness, but here she's often front and center. The problem is that the comedy is very heavy handed and not very funny. As a drama it isn't much better. Its natives in sarongs bowing before the mad Atwill, who looks bored and distracted. It reminded me of some of the dreadful jungle monster pictures from the 1950's where the mad scientist goes to the jungle and sets some creature loose like in From Hell it Came, except those movies were fun.
I don't think that it helps that this film has something resembling a budget. Certainly the use of stock footage helped, but the fact that Universal spent probably twice what something like Republic, Monogram or a Poverty Row studio made me think that this would be something more than a really cheesy film. I know the reasonable look of the film made it hard to forgive the dopey script.
To be honest this is a hard film to really discuss. Its a light weight B movie that is not bad enough to make one want to spend time commenting on it. Its a bad movie that makes you want to forget it after you've seen it, with a "well that was a waste of an hour" before moving on to something else. Its a misfire and not worth saying anything bad about simply because the movie inflicts enough damage on itself.
Not worth bothering with except as a footnote in Lionel Atwill's career, his last starring role, and possibly his worst performance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've been on a Lionel Atwill kick lately, watching some of his less famous films. Luckily I can find some of them on youtube to view for free. Last night I watched 'The Mad Doctor of Market Street. Youtube had a pretty decent copy. I'd never seen this one before. The title was intriguing. Turns out it really wasn't much of a horror movie or worthwhile except for Lionel Atwill fans. He does always play a good villain. The story starts out in the the city, San Francisco I think, where a "Mad Doctor' is conducting illegal experiments in suspended animation. He believes he can eventually conquer death. Unfortunately he kills a test subject who submits to the experiment in order to get money to feed his hungry family. The police know of his experiments and are after him. The story quickly moves from the city to an ocean liner where he is hiding out and then to a south seas tropical island, castaway style. I really wasn't expecting that. The plot as I said, is nothing to write home about...oh wait I am writing about it. To me the best part was the use of well known sound track music to effectively make a scene much scarier than it has a right to be. I believe it's the music from 'Son of Frankenstein' or one of the other Frankenstein Films. Also, Mr. Atwill is fun to watch as always. The down side besides the predictable story was the annoying characters in the film for comic relief. The IMDb gave the film an average rating of 5.2 out of 10. In my opinion it's barely a 3.
Mad scientist Lionel Atwill is at it again. This time he's run out of San Francisco for performing experiments that involve killing people so he can bring them back to life. He eventually makes his way to a tropical island where he uses his scientific abilities to fool the natives into thinking he has the power of resurrection. Minor Universal horror film is still enjoyable. Lionel Atwill is great as always. He's got some nice support from the likes of Noble Johnson, Claire Dodd, and John Eldredge. Nat Pendleton and cutie Una Merkel provide the comic relief. It's not a classic but any movie where Atwill plays a villain, especially a mad scientist, is worth checking out.
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