Based on a play by Howard W. Comstock & Allen C. Miller
Screenplay by Robert Tasker & Earl Baldwin
Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, White Christmas)
Plot: Reporter Lee Tracy is on the trail of the notorious Moon Killer. The murder victims are strangled and cannibalized with surgical skill, which leads the police to the institute of Dr. Jerry Xavier. There, the doctor leads suspicion away from an odd assortment of scientists. Could it be the scientist studying the moon or is it the doctor who has odd sexual perversions? And, of course, with death lurking around every corner, you know that love is in the air as well between the lovely Joanne and the intrepid reporter.
Personal Thoughts: This pre-Code classic offers some rare looks at taboo topics of cannibalism and rape in an equally rare early two-color Technicolor format. However, when I first saw this movie years ago, it was presented in black and white. In fact, two different versions were filmed with only a couple of minor differences between the two. The color version was actually considered lost for many years. It wasn’t until the death of Jack L. Warner in 1978 that a print was discovered in his personal collection. After a restoration, it was once again redistributed and is now the more common version to see.
While the reporter piece is fairly routine, it’s actually a rather graphic film at times, again due to its’ pre-Code status. The sequences with the synthetic flesh and the “creation” of the Moon Killer are particularly creepy. At 76 minutes long, it’s a very enjoyable film, well-worth more recognition that it gets as it’s often overlooked in favor of the Universal Horror classics of the same period. Definitely worth adding to your personal collection.
- The original nitrate print was donated to the UCLA Film Archives.
- First of three films pairing Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray in a two year period. Doctor X was followed by Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Vampire Bat, both in 1933.
- Despite the title, Return of Doctor X (1939) is not a sequel.