Following last year's magnificent release of MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, Warner Archive gives us another restored horror film classic on home video--the 1932 film DOCTOR X. This movie is a gloriously insane example of a Pre-Code thriller, and it is historically important as well. It was the first horror film for genre legends Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.
A murderer called "The Moon Killer" is stalking New York City. Among the suspects are esteemed scientist Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill) and the staff at his medical research facility. The staff (Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford, Arthur Edmund Carewe) all act as suspiciously as possible, and Xavier himself seems to have something to hide. The Doctor decides to bring the staff to his remote large estate on Long Island, where, with the use of his laboratory, he will attempt to prove which one is the killer. As expected, things don't go as planned, with a meddling sarcastic newspaper reporter (Lee Tracy) injecting himself into the proceedings, and Xavier's beautiful daughter (Fay Wray) getting caught up in the drama.
I have to admit that I prefer MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM to DOCTOR X, but the latter has plenty of crazy charms of its own. Despite the fact that this was Lionel Atwill's first horror film (and second sound film), you'd think he had been doing this sort of thing for decades. Atwill's impeccable diction and emotional intensity were perfect for the classic horror film. He elevates the material here, as he did in just about every film he appeared in.
As she did in last year's MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM Blu-ray, Fay Wray looks breathtaking here, and she gets to let out her very first (but certainly not the last) scream in a horror film. Lee Tracy as the reporter is, in my opinion, far more annoying than Glenda Farrell was in WAX MUSEUM (he's also not as easy on the eyes).
The biggest highlight of DOCTOR X is the off-the-rails climax, where the Moon Killer is revealed--but not before the fiend disguises himself by slopping on a gooey concoction to transform his features ("SYNTHETIC FLESH!!"). This madcap sequence has a disturbing tinge to it--there's nothing like it in this period of 1930s Hollywood.
DOCTOR X was filmed in the same two-strip Technicolor process as MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, and it receives a brilliant restoration on this Blu-ray. The movie has a far more greenish tone to it than it did on the DVD release a few years ago, and the picture clarity and sound are vastly improved.
The major extra on this Blu-ray is the black & white version of DOCTOR X, which has been unavailable for years. For the most part, the camera set-ups, shot compositions, and scenes are basically the same--but it appears that a few alternate takes were used. (It also appears, to my untrained eyes, that the better takes were in the color version.) Being able to see the black & white DOCTOR X is a major monster movie buff highlight (the print is quite sharp at times). I felt that the story didn't come off as lurid as in the color version.
A brand new audio commentary is presented, with author Alan K. Rode, biographer of Michael Curtiz, the director of DOCTOR X. (I wrote a blog post of Rode's Curtiz book earlier this year.) It's an engaging talk, with plenty of facts and anecdotes on Curtiz's life and work. Scott McQueen's excellent commentary for the DVD edition of DOCTOR X is thankfully included here as well.
A new featurette on the horror films of Michael Curtiz is also here, with clips from the titles and on-camera analysis from Rode and McQueen. Scott McQueen also gives audio insight during a program which compares scenes before and after the restoration of DOCTOR X. There's also an original trailer, which is in black & white.
Overall, this is an amazing release for an amazing movie. There's been all sorts of rumors lately about the future of the Warner Archive program. Whatever its fate may be, in the last year Warner Archive has presented three incredible Blu-ray releases and restorations of three important films: MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and now DOCTOR X. Everyone who was involved in these releases deserves the utmost congratulations.