Saturday, April 5, 2014

#1,328. Dr. Cyclops (1940)

Directed By: Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Albert Dekker, Thomas Coley, Janice Logan

Tag line: "Diabolical"

Trivia: This movie was the first science fiction film to be shot in three-color Technicolor

Seven years after he and Merian C. Cooper shocked the world with King Kong, director Ernest B. Shoedsack returned to the jungle for another fantastic adventure, this time relating the tale of a mad scientist who’s created a machine that can shrink any living creature to miniature size.

The scientist, Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker), uses radium (which he’s extracted from ore) to power this machine, yet despite a few successful tests, including one performed on the beloved horse of his assistant, Pedro (Frank Yaconelli), he’s been unhappy with the results. Due to his failing eyesight, Dr. Thorkel invites biologists Dr. Rupert Bullfinch (Charles Halton) and Mary Robinson (Janice Logan) to assist him, telling them nothing about his research except that he needs their help. Joined by fellow scientist Bill Stockton (Thomas Coley) and Steve Baker (Victor Kilian), who supplied the mules they used for transportation, the two arrive at Dr. Thorkel’s jungle laboratory and quickly identify the cause of his problems. To their surprise, Dr. Thorkel thanks them, and then asks them to leave immediately. Shocked and angered by their colleague’s actions, Dr. Bullfinch, Mary, and the others try to figure out what Thorkel has been up to, only to become his latest round of test subjects!

Shot in vivid Technicolor, Dr. Cyclops utilizes incredible special effects to tell its tale of miniaturized scientists on the run from a madman. Once they’ve been shrunk, the four visitors (along with Pedro, who suffered the same fate because he discovered what happened to his horse) try to escape. As Dr. Thorkel naps nearby, they work together to unlock the front door by standing on some books, which they’ve stacked one on top of the other, and then using a matchstick to push the lock open. Once outside, they’re chased by Thorkel’s pet cat, and hide in a nearby cactus patch. The use of over-sized sets, combined with background projection and matte shots, brings a realistic look to these sequences, making it appear as if the full-size Dr. Thorkel towers over his prisoners. Things become even more harrowing once the group makes its way to the jungle, where they experience such dangers as a torrential rainstorm and a hungry crocodile.

By no means is Dr. Cyclops a perfect film; aside from Albert Dekker, who strikes the perfect balance between genius and insanity as Dr. Thorkel, the performances aren’t particularly good, and much of the dialogue (especially in the opening scenes) is clunky at best. But when it comes to pure escapism, Dr. Cyclops ranks right up there with Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast as one of the finest fantasy films produced in the 1940s, and is every bit as amazing a motion picture as King Kong.

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