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Michael Curtiz
Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy
Writing Credits:
Robert Tasker, Earl Baldwin

A wisecracking New York reporter intrudes on a research scientist's quest to unmask The Moon Killer.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 76 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 4/20/2021

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Alan K. Rode
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Scott MacQueen
• Alternate Black & White Version of Film
• “Madness & Mystery” Featurette
• Restoration Reel
• Trailer


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Doctor X [Blu-Ray] (1932)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 31, 2021)

While it feels tempting to refer to 1932’s Doctor X as an early film from director Michael Curtiz, that wouldn’t prove accurate. Back in his native Hungary under his real name of “Kertész Mihály”, Curtiz began his career 20 years earlier, and he already enjoyed scores of credits before he moved to Hollywood in 1926.

Nonetheless, X precedes Curtiz’s more famous works such as Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood. , As such, it seems possible to view it as “early” in a sense.

A madman stalks the streets of New York. Known as “The Moon Killer”, this maniac brutalizes his victims under the light of the full moon.

With journalist Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy) on the killer’s trail, the story leads to the Academy of Surgical Research, where some believe the culprit to reside. Though also a suspect, Dr. Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill) conducts experiments that may shed light on the person behind the slayings.

Based on a stage play, X clearly demonstrates those roots. The majority of the film takes place on a limited number of sets, and it does little to broaden those horizons.

This doesn’t seem like an issue, though, and Curtiz manages to give the movie a lot of style despite these limitations. At its best, X manages to somewhat transcend the limitations of its cinematic era to become a moody, involving effort.

However, Curtiz also finds himself stuck with a surprisingly feeble plot and lackluster characters. Lee seems to exist solely to prompt exposition and a wholly unnecessary romantic subplot between the journalist and Xavier’s daughter Joanne. We could lose the Lee/Joanne interactions entirely and never miss them.

It doesn’t help that Tracy makes for a perplexing form of “leading man”. With a saggy, craggy face, it seems tough to imagine the beautiful Wray would fall for him, but the movie wants us to accept that anyway.

Again, I wouldn’t mind this leap of faith if the movie used the romantic scenes well. Since they seem tacked-on and superfluous, they turn into a drag.

Not that the plot really goes much of anywhere anyway, as X seems more like a movie with an idea for a story than a truly fleshed-out narrative. Oh, at Curtiz’s hands, the film does muster occasional moments of suspense and terror, but these seem too infrequent.

While the tale comes to life occasionally, most of it feels stuck in neutral. For every evocative scene – like an “experiment” that John Carpenter clearly borrowed for 1982’s The Thing - we find three scenes that fall flat.

Although Curtiz handles the thriller side of X well, he struggles to integrate the movie’s stabs at romance and broad comedy. Forced on him by the studio, the pointlessness of these sequences remains the issue, as the film would work much better if it focused more tightly on the terror.

As it stands, X becomes an awkward melange of genres. It occasionally hits the mark but it comes with too much ineffective material to succeed on a consistent basis.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Doctor X appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Due to the photographic processes, this became a challenging image, but the disc rendered it well.

The two-color Technicolor process tended to impact sharpness the most heavily, as it left us with a movie that leaned toward the soft side of the street. Within the constraints of the photography, the film looked fine, but it still lacked particularly great delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effect materialized, and I saw no signs of edge haloes. Given a layer of grain, noise reduction didn’t become a problem, and the image cleaned up potential print flaws.

The two-color Technicolor process meant a restricted palette, one that favored greens and pink/yellows. That meant a less than realistic sense of hues, but the Blu-ray reproduced them within the limits of the format – even if that technology meant X tended to look more like a colorized movie shot in black and white than a native color project.

Blacks appeared fairly dense, while low-light shots offered pretty good delineation. No one will use X as a visual showcase, but for an 89-year-old movie shot with a problematic film process, I thought the results worked well.

As expected, the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural mix seemed dated but acceptable. Though speech displayed a thin quality typical of the era, dialogue usually sounded reasonably accurate and distinct.

As with dialogue, effects and music seemed flat and lackluster and they failed to demonstrate much dynamic range. However, those issues often appeared during older movies, so I had no great worries about them. All in all, I thought that the soundtrack of X appeared to be typical for its era.

We get a bunch of extras here, and these include a black and white version of Doctor X. Created for exhibition in smaller markets and outside of the US, this presentation comes from separate photography, so it represents an alternate take on the film, one that runs 1:17:03 versus the color production’s 1:16:33.

Both seem very close, as you find similar angles and material. A few modest variations occur – some different lines and shots – but the two seem very similar. The B&W version offers an interesting alternate but it doesn’t appear to come with substantial alterations.

In terms of visual quality, the B&W X holds up well, and I honestly prefer the look of the B&W production. Two-color Technicolor simply seems unattractive too much of the time.

The B&W feels more natural and appropriate for the material. Even if fans like the color better, the inclusion of the alternate B&W becomes a nice addition.

Two separate audio commentaries appear here, and the first comes from film historian Alan K. Rode. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, sets and locations, the impact and career of director Michael Curtiz, and connected areas.

Rode delivers a pretty standard "film historian commentary", with a broad look at the participants and various specifics about the production. He does focus more on Curtiz than other areas, which makes sense since he wrote a biography of the filmmaker. Rode turns this into an informative and effective chat that works very well.

For the second commentary, we hear from film historian Scott MacQueen. He provides his own running, screen-specific discussion of the source stageplay, its adaptation, cast/crew, notes about Technicolor, and different parts of the production.

A veteran of the format, MacQueen brings us a useful commentary. Happily, he avoids much repetition with Rode's piece, so we get a good array of fresh details in this engaging and enjoyable track.

Madness & Mystery runs 27 minutes, 39 seconds and brings notes from Rode and MacQueen. They discuss the status of Warner Bros. in the late 1920s/early 1930s as well as the involvement of Michael Curtiz as a horror director. Inevitably, some of this repeats from their commentaries, but “Madness” nonetheless delivers a nice overview.

In addition to the film’s black and white trailer, we find a Before and After Restoration Reel. With commentary from MacQueen, this seven-minute, 40-second piece explains the work done to clean up the source. MacQueen discusses various choices and gives us a good lesson in the techniques at play.

At times, Doctor X turns into a clever and effective thriller. However, it sags too often to become a consistently engaging affair. The Blu-ray comes with appropriate picture and audio as well as a nice mix of bonus materials. X offers a spotty effort as a film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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