Doctor X (1932) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Doctor X (1932) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on February 21st, 2022 | Movie Review | Classic Horror, Sci-Fi, Killer, Mystery, Mad Scientist

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It’s about an unsolved series of “full moon murders,” the reporter (and the police officers) investigating them, and a research facility boss intent on proving all of his subordinates guiltless. 

Doctor X was directed by Michael Curtiz (The Mad Genius and Mystery of the Wax Museum) and stars Lionel Atwill (House of Dracula, Fog Island, and To Be or Not to Be), Fay Wray (King Kong and Black Moon), and Lee Tracy (The Strange Love of Molly Louvain and Washington Merry-Go-Round). 

Who is the Moon-Killer – and who will be the first to finger him?

Doctor X Review

In 1932, talkies were barely five years old. Doctor X was filmed with both synchronized sound and color (utilizing an improved Technicolor Process 3). To today’s viewer, the color seems mostly dark, lush forest greens, shadows, and the occasional tan or moonshine insofar as the palate was concerned – as if the film had been shot through a nostalgic Edwardian filter or a leaky Polaroid with expired film.

Its sound stage is reminiscent of Frankenstein and Dracula – long silent patches unadorned by music and punctuated by screams. The effect is like slow footsteps on a floorboard. The spacing between each step is mossy. The greenish tint pervades everything – a toxic trauma infecting all.

The pace, however, is far from pastoral. It is quick; it is rat-a-tat-tat film noir fast. It clips along. 

The viewer has to pivot on a dime to keep up. And Fay Wray, slim goddess, steps delicately above the green curtained morass which is peppered with a crass humor typified by exploding cigars and hand-shake joy buzzers. When she briefly appears on a sunlit beach with the smitten reporter, she’s radiant.

This is a lovely film. It’s about cannibalism, overwork, synthetic flesh, and voltage. It’s about a trial by electricity which utilizes psychological science – where due process is replaced by technology. It’s about authority and depravity. 

Doctor Xavier (a/k/a Dr. X) runs a research laboratory which holds a monopoly on a very unique scalpel – a scalpel which has been used in several murders in the surrounding neighborhood. Naturally, he and his subordinates are suspects. But Doctor X suavely convinces law enforcement that he – using the scientific method – can ferret out the suspect. 

The plan includes a re-enactment of one of the murders, just like Hamlet utilized to catch his father’s killer.

Worth Watching?

Yes, yes, and yes. It is. It is very much worth watching. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

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