Long before Professor X opened up his school for gifted mutants, another Dr. Xavier appeared in a horror/SF/mystery thriller. It remains famous mostly for its pre-Hayes Code elements and two-tone color process, and it is this weekend’s Summer Movie Review.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Tasker and Earl Baldwin from a play by Allen C. Miller and Howard W. Comstock.
Fay Wray as Joan Xavier
Lee Tracy as Lee Taylor
Lionel Atwill as Dr. Xavier
Preston Foster as Dr. Wells
John Wray as Dr. Haines
Harry Beresford as Dr. Duke
Arthur Edmund Carewe as Dr. Rowitz
Leila Bennett as Mamie, the maid
George Rosener as Otto, the butler
Robert Warwick as Police Commissioner Stevens
Willard Robertson as Detective O’Halloran
Harry Holman as Mike, Waterfront Policeman
Mae Busch as Brothel Madame
Tom Dugan as Sheriff
A reporter investigating a series of disturbing full-moon killings learns the perpetrator may belong to an elite scientific / surgical institution. Could the Moon Monster Murders connect to a revolutionary scientific breakthrough?
Well, could they?!?
Cannibalism, sexual assault, and a brothel scene meant this film to some degree disappeared once the Hayes Code took effect, and for many years was only available in the variant black and white version1. A print of the colored original resurfaced in the late 1970s, and that is the version now generally shown, when the film is shown at all.
The noir elements and the muted color palette lend a creepy atmosphere to the proceedings. The use of machine noise as a part of the score is likely a first, and ahead of its time.
The plot only tenuously makes sense; viewers have to hand-wave some lapses in story logic and plausible behavior.
The intrepid but clownish reporter’s comic antics only occasionally hold up, and often detract from the movie.
Originality: 4/6 The film borrows from Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the conventional murder mystery, but it contains much that would have felt new in 1932. The film’s scientific speculations would have been cutting-edge.
Effects: 5/6 Mostly make-up and sets, which hold up surprisingly well.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Overall: 5/6 If you’re a fan of old Hollywood, you may well have missed this one. Despite its uneven tone, it proves far creepier than Universal’s more famous horror offerings from the era, though time has tamed it considerably.
In total, Dr. X receives 31/42.2
1. Many viewers have watched a black and white release, which consists mostly of, well, black and white versions of the same shots. However, a few scenes differ.
2. Humphrey Bogart, early in his career, appeared in a low-grade horror called The Return of Dr. X, which has no connection to this earlier film. Nevertheless, they are now marketed together.