Doctor X (1932)

Genres - Horror, Mystery, Thriller  |   Release Date - Aug 3, 1932 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 77 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Michael Curtis's Doctor X is a strange movie by any definition, both in its content and its execution. Based on a mystery/melodrama by Howard Warren Comstock and Allen C. Miller, which ran for 80 performances (a marginally respectable, if not profitable run, in those days) on Broadway in the winter/spring of 1931, the play was mostly set in the offices of a New York newspaper and in East Orange, New Jersey -- screenwriter Earl W. Baldwin moved the action entirely to New York and Long Island, effectively creating an old dark house mystery; and Curtiz transposed it all into an eerily stylized mode, shot in two-color Technicolor that gives the whole movie a strangely mixed look of not-quite-verisimilitude and unearthly eeriness. Actually, the main element of New York verisimilitude resides in the presence and performance of Lee Tracy's fast-talking reporter, who propels a lot of the action forward in what is otherwise a surprisingly talkie script; Tracy makes an unconventional but likable hero, and is well matched to Fay Wray as the daughter of Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill), the pathologist called in on the case of the "Moon Killer." His casting, and the deliberately overstated performances by his colleagues at the Academy of Surgical Research, fill the movie with potential suspects (some of whom are obvious red herrings). The resolution, such as it is, and the logic of the story, coupled with the talkie nature of the picture, make Doctor X more of a curio than a truly great, or even very good movie. For decades the movie was only available in murky black-and-white prints, which further reduced its value, apart from the eeriness of the plot and resolution, but the renewed availability of Technicolor prints has restored much of its original value. (The movie was successful enough in its time to justify the creation of a low-budget (black-and-white) faux sequel, The Return of Dr. X, seven years later, with a pre-stardom Humphrey Bogart in the title role).