Return of Dr. X, The (1939)

Return of Dr. X, The (1939)

“The day is coming when man will be able to control blood — and when that time does arrive, he’ll be able to control his destiny. Blood is the source of life!”

When an eager journalist (Wayne Morris) who has arranged to meet a glamorous actress (Lya Lys) at her apartment arrives to find her dead, he promptly calls his newspaper to file the story — but the police find Lys perfectly alive, and Morris is fired. Morris consults his doctor-friend (Dennis Morgan) for help in investigating the mystery, and they meet both Morgan’s mentor (John Litel) and Litel’s assistant (Humphrey Bogart), who are conducting experiments related to blood types, and are eager to connect with Morgan’s colleague (Rosemary Lane) — who happens to have the exact blood type they’re in search of.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • Journalists
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Murder Mystery

This atmospherically shot B-flick — directed with panache by newbie Vincent Sherman — is best known for featuring Humphrey Bogart in his only “horror flick” role, but it’s actually more of a pseudo-comedic mad-doctor amateur-sleuth genre-mash. In just 62 minutes, we’re taken quickly through a tale of journalistic gusto, mysteriously disappearing bodies, vampiric visages, a pet monkey, a fuzzy white bunny, and a monocled scientist …


… willing to revive a doctor put to death for — no kidding — experimentally starving a baby (!). Bogart’s white hair-streak is clearly intentionally reminiscent of Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and while he wasn’t at all thrilled with his role here, he actually does a decent job — much better than his supporting turn as a Mexican bandit in Michael Curtiz’s Virginia City the same year. There’s some amusingly droll dialogue (“His interest in blood… almost equals my own.”), and Sherman’s visual flair is consistently engaging. While this isn’t high art by any means — and the narrative has plenty of holes — it’s an enjoyable low-budget film and worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography and sets

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little B-flick. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Return of Dr. X, The (1939)

  1. First viewing. Agreed; must-see, as a “nifty little B-flick”. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Yes. And who done it?”

    ‘The Return of Doctor X’ (1939): A 62-minute zinger! Not only is this one of those the-less-you-know-going-in-the-better flicks but – well, it *is* only 62 minutes, so it’s best to let it unravel in its own short time. Things get hopping very quickly when a well-known stage actress and a “professional blood donor” (professional?!) turn up dead. Reporter Wayne Morris moves hot on the case in order to save his job and enlists the help of doctor Dennis Morgan (he of the ‘ocean-wave’ hair; his hair is *always* like that; how does he do it?). But it ain’t long (remember… 62 minutes) before they run into medical assistant Humphrey Bogart (that entrance!) in what is certainly the wackiest role of Bogart’s career. The assistant is said to be suffering from “a severe shock”. (Um… yeah… ok.) Directorial debut of Vincent Sherman (‘Mr. Skeffington’, ‘Harriet Craig’, etc.).

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