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The Return Of Dr X (1939)
New York newspaper reporter Walter Barnett finds himself out of a job after he claims to have found actress Angela Merrova dead in her apartment - only the next day she showed up alive and threatened to sue the paper. Determined to investigate he discovers her involvement with a strange doctor who is an expert on human blood. Barnett then finds a connection to a series of gruesome murders where the victims were all found drained of blood.
Wayne Morris ... Walter 'Wichita' Garrett (onscreen credit reads 'Walter Barnett')
Rosemary Lane ... Joan Vance
Humphrey Bogart ... Dr. Maurice Xavier, aka Marshall Quesne
Dennis Morgan ... Dr. Mike Rhodes
John Litel ... Dr. Francis Flegg
Lya Lys ... Angela Merrova
Huntz Hall ... Pinky
Charles C. Wilson ... Detective Roy Kincaid (as Charles Wilson)
Vera Lewis ... Miss Sweetman
Howard C. Hickman ... Chairman (scenes deleted) (as Howard Hickman)
Olin Howland ... Undertaker
Arthur Aylesworth ... Guide (scenes deleted)
Cliff Saum ... Detective Sgt. Moran
Director: Vincent Sherman
Codecs: XVid / MP3
You've got to see it to believe it. Bogie in makeup looking ghostly white with a white streak in his hair, in a combination Frankenstein and vampire horror film. It actually happened, due to knuckleheads at Warner Bros. who put him in this film against his wishes. I was amused as well as amazed throughout, and enjoyed watching Bogie stroke his pet rabbit and playing it all straight. Others in the cast (Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane and Dennis Morgan) were fine, but Bogie is the only reason to see this movie. Be prepared to shake your head in disbelief.
The movie must have gone through some heavy editing, because there were many credit errors. First, the end credits bill Wayne Morris as Walter Barnett, but he is called Walter Garrett in the movie throughout and that name is also printed in newspapers several times. Next, Charles Wilson is billed as Detective Ray Kincaid, but he is called Roy throughout. Finally, many of the actors who were supposed to be in the movie never turn up, including two who were credited onscreen - Howard Hickman and Arthur Aylesworth.
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (Warner Brothers, 1939) directed by Vincent Sherman, is in retrospect, not a sequel to the 1932 early two-strip Technicolor mystery, DOCTOR X (First National) starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, but a Grade Z programmer surprisingly headed by a very interesting cast of non-horror actors, including Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Dennis Morgan and Humphrey Bogart(!) working with second-hand material from a screenplay by Lee Katz. In spite of what is displayed on screen, in capable hands this might have worked as one of the finer "B" films of the horror or science fiction genre. Production values, though, are on a bigger scale than any poverty row horror film from Monogram Studios, and slightly beneath what Universal would have produced a few short years prior to distributing similar type quickies made by the mid 1940s. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X, however, as the title indicates, is a story about a scientist, and the scientist in question is not Doctor X, but a Doctor Francis Flegg (John Litel), who may or may be the link to a series of mysterious murders, but the possibility in having some dark secret regarding his profession and his questionable experiments with blood.
The story begins with Walter Barnett (Wayne Morris), a hapless reporter from Wichita, Kansas, working for the Morning Dispatch in New York City arranging for an interview with a European actress named Angela Merrova (Lya Lys) who is currently staying at the Park Vista Hotel. Later that day, Barnett (whose spoken surname sounds more like Garrett) enters her hotel room to find her dead, with indications of being stabbed through the heart. After telephoning the news to the city editor about his discovery, the news about Merrova's death makes the front page. However, instead of landing a job promotion, Barnett is called to his editor's office to find not only Angela Merrova to be sitting there very much alive (in spite of her dead white appearance), but to be suing the Morning Dispatch for $100,000 for damages on her reputation. Fired from his job, Barnett comes to Jules Memorial Hospital where he tells his interne friend, Michael Rhodes (Dennis Morgan), of the situation, which he finds hard to believe. Stanley Rodgers (John Ridgely), a blood doaner specialist scheduled to arrive at the hospital for a transfusion prior to an operation to be performed by Doctor Francis Flegg (John Litel), is later found dead. Barnett notices Rodgers has died in the same fashion as Angela Merrova. Through a series of investigations, it is discovered that any patient with Type One blood (the same blood type of Rodgers) has disappeared from the hospital, leaving the victims drained of their blood. With Rhodes being lead to pay Doctor Flegg a visit, he is followed inconspicuously by Barnett. Before meeting up with Flegg, Rhodes is met by Flegg's laboratory assistant (Humphrey Bogart), whose ghost-like facial features and acquiring his icy cold handshake indicates that there is something entirely strange and mysterious about him. As for Barnett (peeking through the windows), who feels that he has seen this man before, decides to go through the file room of the Morning Dispatch looking for some answers, only to discover through some old newspaper clippings something even more mysterious about Flegg's assistant, who might be the legally executed Doctor X.
Featured in the supporting cast are: Rosemary Lane as Joan Vance, the student nurse; Huntz Hall as Pinky, the newspaper copy boy; Charles C. Wilson as Detective Roy Kincaid; and Vera Lewis as Nurse Sweetman. Olin Howland playing the morgue attendant is very amusing in his bit providing some very "dead on" humor.
Zombie-like creatures, including Bogart (billed as Marshall Quesne, but who refers himself to the name that sounds more like Kane, sporting glasses and a streak of white hair down his head) and Lya Lys, in desperate need for specific rare blood types in order to stay alive and roaming the city, not only makes THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X quite interesting in plot, if one can overlook some of its over abundance of "comedy relief" by Wayne Morris, which at times works out well here, but even more watchable with the odd casting of soon to be "superstar" Humphrey Bogart (the very same Bogey of such well known achieve classics as THE MALTESE FALCON and CASABLANCA), then a resident Warner Brothers stock player notable for his gangster roles, either playing the lead or in supporting status. While Boris Karloff, who specialized in playing such characters as this, was regularly appearing in program productions at Warners at this time, makes one wonder why he wasn't selected in the part given to Bogey himself. Had it been that way, then THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X would have been just another routine Karloff programmer. With Karloff assuming the part, this would be expected. But with Bogart, this would not, which makes THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X even more worthy of viewing, and really no harm done during its short span of 62 minutes. Another interesting thing to take notice is that Bogart is billed third during the opening credits, and listed first during the closing cast credits. With its sci-fi influence, THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is campy, at times amusing, seldom scary, and does offer Rosemary Lane a rare on screen opportunity in finding herself strapped on an operating table by that ghoulish creature (played by Bogart) to belt out a good scream or two, but being no threat to Fay Wray who had her scream-a-thon fest in her most famous thriller, KING KONG (RKO, 1933). But in true Bogart fashion, the story does find time for some gun play. As for Dennis Morgan, who previously appeared in films for various studios billed as Stanley Morner, makes a fine serious-minded secondary character in this production. He would soon rise to lead performances throughout the 1940s, and being best known for his frequent teamings with Jack Carson in a series of musical-comedies.
Bogart has been given a bad press for his role in "The Return of Doctor X." Why he even gave himself a bad press, saying the role was forced on him by the studio, a role intended for Boris Karloff. But actually Bogart's performance is one of the best ingredients in this campy flick. Bogart's two really terrible acting attempts were the same year in "The Oklahoma Kid," where he tried to play dastardly villain, Whip McCord, and "Dark Victory," where Bogart is completely miscast as an Irish horse trainer.
Nineteen thirty nine must have been Bogart's quirky year. He finally found himself in the early 1940's and with "The Maltese Falcon" became a screen icon. In "The Return of Doctor X," with his chalky makeup and streaked hair, Bogart resembles a punk rocker before his time.
The film is not bad entertainment. The weakest part is the attempt by Wayne Morris to be funny. He thinks falling into a room by leaning against a supposedly locked door which suddenly opens is hilarious. So much so that he does it twice. The funniest character is Huntz Hall early in his career. There is one funny line from Morris. After digging up Quesne's body and in a hurry to leave, morris tells the caretaker to "put it back," then rushes off.
The acting is top notch with the best performance coming from John Litel, closely matched by Bogart's left-field mad dead doctor. All in all a curious and worthwhile film, especially for Bogart fans.
This film is important because it shows that even Hollywood legends need huge amounts of luck to avoid film oblivion. Bogie had been in Hollywood for four years in the early 1930s, and never hit a good film (although he did appear for his one and only time in that period with the young Spencer Tracy). He went back to his stage work in New York City, appeared in THE PETRIFIED FOREST, and returned to Hollywood with his friend Leslie Howard to make the film version there. After the filming of THE PETRIFIED FOREST Bogie was taken seriously as a supporting actor, getting important roles (though as villains) in films like DEAD END and THE ROARING TWENTIES, but also appearing as the lead in films like BLACK LEGION. But his anger at not getting the roles he felt he deserved led to friction with Jack Warner. Warner was like many gifted studio head - producers: he knew that you groom an actor you admire for the right break-out parts. Bogie would not wait, so Warner would punish him by giving him dreck like SWING YOUR LADY. He decided to give him this film too - Warner's answer to the Universal horror and science fiction cycle, THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X.
If this film had been made by Universal with Boris Karloff it is possible that the film would have been a 7 or 8 out of 10. Karloff or Lugosi or Atwill were able to project a mixture of scientific interest, curiosity, and sinister twisting to their scientists and their characters. Maybe it was the sound of their voices (with their staginess or their accents). Bogart did not have this. He sounded like an average Joe with a slight lisp. He just did not project a scientific gambler.
The plot of THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X has nothing to do with an earlier film DOCTOR X that starred Atwill and Fay Wray. That film was pretty good. It was about a series of murders apparently connected with a medical center, where Atwill is one of the leading doctors, and one of the suspects. The plot of THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is about a series of murders connected to apparent vampirism as the victims are drained of their blood. It turns upon the experiments of a Dr. Francis Flegg (John Litel - trying to be a crusading visionary, but hampered by poor dialog). Flegg is working on a study of human blood, with a way of possibly making an artificial version of it to extend life. However, he has had only one success - a strange man who works with him named Marshall Quesne (Bogart).
Bogart's make-up is the only really interesting thing about him. He has his hair parted in the center, with a white streak of hair in the middle, and wears pince-nez. His face is whitened to look like he is anemic. He tries to act self-deprecating, when talking to others like Wayne Morris (the reporter who is investigating the murders). But he only acts like he is sleep-walking through the lines. Except when he gets upset - at one point he notes part of Litel's blood experiment is failing (and he is very involved in making the experiment work). He starts yelling at Litel about this, much to Morris' interest. But those moments are few - too few.
# Boris Karloff was to star as Dr. X.
# Humphrey Bogart said of this film: "This is one of the pictures that made me march in to [Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner] and ask for more money again. You can't believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner's blood, or Harry's, or Pop's, maybe I wouldn't have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie."