Tuesday, October 22, 2002

DOCTOR X (1932)

I saw a black and white print of this on Chiller Theater way back in the 70's, I think, but the print I watched yesterday was in color. It looked a little faded, which is to be expected since it was shot in two-strip Technicolor in the early days of color technology; I guess the fact that it's still available in color at all is a good thing. Reds and greens predominate and add to the fairly creepy feel of the film. The Full Moon Killer has foiled the police several times, and cocky reporter Lee Tracy is determined to track him down. Evidence points to a doctor (because the killer uses a particular kind of scalpel) and possibly a cannibal (teeth marks on the victims). Suspicion surrounds Dr. Xavier's Medical Academy; no, its not a haven for mutant teenagers, just eccentric research scientists. A number of doctors who have interests in either cannibalism or the effects of the moon are under suspicion, even one (Preston Foster) who it seems could certainly not be the killer because he only has one arm and the killer strangles his victims with both arms. Xavier himself (Lionel Atwill) has a touch of the eccentric in him and is also considered a suspect, but he agrees to run some experiments designed to smoke out the real killer. Fay Wray, as Atwill's daughter, gets involved with the experiments and with reporter Tracy. Much of the film is nicely atmospheric, though there are plot lulls, and Tracy, who is mostly around for mild comic relief, grows irritating quickly--I was hoping he'd be the next victim. The opening scene is set partly in a brothel run by Mae Busch, a startling pre-Code moment. The unmasking climax is well handled. If you can tolerate Tracy, the movie is worth watching.

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