Doctor X (1932)

“I tell you that locked in the human skull is a little world, all its own…”

Doctor X Poster

When detectives inform him that a serial killer known as the “Moon Killer” is one of the scientists working at his renowned laboratory, Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill) decides to conduct an experiment which will reveal the true identity of the madman. Meanwhile, an intrepid reporter (Lee Tracy) hoping for a big scoop falls in love with Dr. Xavier’s daughter (Fay Wray) while placing his own life in serious jeopardy.


As one of the first movies to be filmed in “two-strip Technicolor” — and one of Warner Brothers’ earliest horror films, made in direct competition with Universal Studios’ immensely popular chillers — Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X holds a special place in cinematic history. Its fame increased during the decades after its release, when only black-and-white copies were available for viewing; it wasn’t until 1973 that the original color version of Doctor X was restored. Unfortunately, the story itself hasn’t held up very well: for the most part, the dialogue and acting are both stilted and clumsy, and there are precious few genuine chills until the final 20 minutes or so (once the identity of the killer is finally revealed). Comic-relief Lee Tracy is simply annoying, and his romance with beautiful Fay Wray (who, as usual, glows on the screen) is nothing more than pure cinematic convenience. With that said, Lionel Atwill (in one of his first major screen roles) is appropriately regal and mysterious as “Doctor X”; his presence, along with reasonably atmospheric set designs and cinematography, are the redeeming features of this otherwise disappointing murder mystery.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effectively atmospheric sets and early “two-strip” cinematography
    Doctor X Cinematography
  • Lionel Atwill as “Dr. X”
    Doctor X Atwill
  • The climactic sequences
    Doctor X Madman

Must See?
No, though hardcore film buffs will likely be curious to check out the movie that eluded fans in its Technicolor iteration for so many years (now available as part of a box set of Warner Brothers’ horror films called “Legends of Horror”). Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


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