Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#848. The Return of Doctor X (1939)

Directed By: Vincent Sherman

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Wayne Morris

Tag line: "He lives to kill and kills to live!"

Trivia: Although Wayne Morris is billed as "Walter Barnett," he is called "Walter Garrett" in the film.

It’s damn near impossible to write anything about 1939’s The Return of Doctor X without first mentioning it co-starred Humphrey Bogart, marking the only time the legendary actor’s ever appeared in a horror film. And it’s a good thing he did, too, because if it wasn’t for Bogey, there wouldn’t be a whole lot to say about this movie.

As The Return of Doctor X opens, reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) is on his way to conduct an interview with actress Angela Merrova (Lya Lys). But when he arrives at her apartment, he finds her dead on the floor, all the blood emptied from her body. After reporting the death to his editor, who then runs with the story, Garrett has some explaining to do when 1. The police don’t find a corpse, and 2. Merrova shows up at his boss’s office the next morning, hopping mad his newspaper listed her in the obituaries. After another dead body is discovered, also drained of its blood, Garrett teams up with his pal, Dr. Mike Rhodes (Dennis Morgan), to try and figure out what’s going on. Their investigation eventually leads them to one of Rhodes’ colleagues, Dr. Flegg (John Litel), and Flegg’s strange assistant, Dr. Quesne (Bogart), both of whom have apparently been up to no good.

The Return of Doctor X is a sequel to 1932’s Doctor X in name only, bearing no similarity whatsoever to the earlier movie either thematically or in the quality of its execution. Where Doctor X was a taut, suspenseful film, The Return of Doctor X is anything but, which is unfortunate because its story, dealing with reincarnation and, to a lesser degree, vampirism, definitely had potential. Alas, the film simply plods along, scene after scene, following Garrett and Rhodes as they meticulously attempt to solve what proves to be a rather dull mystery. The movie tries to come to life in the final few minutes, even going so far as to feature a gunfight (something Bogey would become a natural at in later years), but it was too little, too late. Ultimately, The Return of Doctor X is a bland motion picture, and never once engages its audience on any meaningful level.

As for Humphrey Bogart, one gets the feeling the actor didn’t exactly enjoy his stint as a mad scientist, or the fact his character sported a white, skunk-like streak through his hair! It’s little wonder that The Return of Doctor X was both his first and last horror film.

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