Movie: Doctor X (1932)

Doctor X (1932)
Release Date: 27 Aug 1932
Runtime: 76 Minutes

I will recap, have some photos and a little trivia. All of the spoilers – all of the details – all of the time.

For a time Warner Brothers did not have a print of the original Technicolor version and it was assumed to be lost. The Technicolor version was finally discovered in the private collection of studio head Jack L. Warner after his death in 1978 and restored by the UCLA Archives.

Contrary to Technicolor’s edict, Warner Brothers also shot a black-and-white version of the film. The Technicolor version was shot by Ray Rennahan and the B&W version by Richard Towers. The camera angles of the the two versions are considerably different, with the Technicolor camera given priority for the best compositions. Two of these, for example, are Lee Tracy and Mae Busch in the house of prostitution scene and the sequence with Tracy in the skeleton room.

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The play of the same title opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St., on 9 February 1931 and had 80 performances. Warner Bros. paid $5,000 for the rights to the play.

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We are introduced to a reporter, Lee Taylor of the Daily World, trying to get inside the morgue for a story. He cannot. Then he goes into a brothel (maybe?) looking for a phone. He is looking for leads on the Moon Killer. He is a wiseguy, using a hand buzzer to shock people who shake hands with him.

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The New York waterfront sequences were shot on the still standing Twinkletoes (1926) set left over from the 1926 Colleen Moore vehicle, in which in stood in for London’s Limehouse District.

Inside of the morgue, while an autopsy is performed , a sheet is held up for discretion. The shadow of the doctor is cast against it. It is definitely an inspiration for Rocky Horror.

All of the murders have been perpetrated in the area of the Academy of Surgical Research! The police are suspecting foul play.

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When Lionel Atwill as Dr Xavier leads the plain clothes police detectives on a tour of his academy, he introduces them to Dr. Haynes, saying, “This is Mister Stevens and Mister O’Halloran…they’re making a tour of scientific research.” Haynes suddenly takes Atwill aside and says with alarm, “Why did you bring the police in here? Get them out…” Atwill however, had made no mention to him of their being policemen.

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Lee Taylor sneaks in and hides under the sheet and acts like a dead person.

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Dr. Xavier’s daughter, Joanne(played by Fay Wray) is worried about him working in the dark and late into the night. Fay Wray’s character is variously addressed as “Joanne” or “Joan,” sometimes in the same scene.

Fay Wray remarked upon working with Michael Curtiz during production, many years later. She said that the director would keep pacing up and down in front of the actors during their lunch hour, trying to intimidate them.

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One scientist studied cannibalism. They thought it was him until they realized he had only one hand and could not possible have strangled a person. That’s a heart. I’ve kept it alive three years with electrolysis. A second scientist studied the brain and used test animals. Then another scientist is studying the moon but it looks like he is in a lab coat with splotches of maybe blood.

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Although he supposed to be a medical doctor, Dr. Xavier mispronounces “scalpel.”

All the while, Taylor is sneaking around, trying to catch a scoop. But Joanne finds him and calls him into question. The police leave. The reporter has been chased off. He is sitting on a bench. As he goes to light the cigar, a scary looking being comes for him from behind. As the cigar is lit, a funny charge goes off and spooks off the man-creature.

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The next day Taylor returns to the estate of Dr Xavier and calls on Joanne. She is sharp as a whip as she exchanges barbs with him.

We are now looking at the Blackstone Shoals stop of the train in Long Island. That explains Maime’s accent. This is where the doctors are meeting in secret to discuss their implications in the Moon Killer murders.

Lee Taylor is back at it, trying to find more clues. He startles very easily. He is stalking around the house in Long Island where the doctors/scientists have gone to figure things out. They are going to use Maime as bait for the Moon Killer, hoping to draw out the real killer. Taylor finds himself in a closet full of skeletons. Dr Xavier plans to do an experiment on all the other scientists to try to prove if any of them is the Moon Killer. He hooks them up to electrodes and monitors.

They can see the moon through the window. The evidence shows that the person is strangled so Wells, the one-handed scientist could not be the culprit. He will be the assistant to the doctor during these experiments.

Back in the closet, Taylor is being watched through a peephole. Smoke starts to fill the closet.

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Back in the exam room, the experiment is starting up. The heartbeat is key to the experiment. The person with an irregular heartbeat when faced with the bait of Maime and replications of the victims – that would have to be the guilty party.

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They have a reenactment of one of the murders, with Maime pretending to be a victim. The lights go out and chaos ensues. They realize Taylor is hiding in the closet. One of the scientists is murdered.

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Taylor plans to drop the story because it is sensational. Fay Wray tries to talk him out of it. He is smitten with her. Otto (the butler) interrupts the two of them. He tells Taylor a room has been prepared for him.

Midnight strikes and Joanne is in her bed, restless. She is woke up by someone banging around in the hallway. She goes to investigate. She finds him at the body of the dead scientist. He sends her back to her room. Oslo watches him from the shadows.

The next day Taylor convinces Joanne to go to the beach. Someone is watching them from the cliffs. He explains that he is not there for a story, that he is worried for her safety. They decide to go up for breakfast.

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That night, Taylor is locked in yet another closet. Maime reads her tea leaves and finds a skull and a cross so takes to the bottle so she can sleep.

Doctor Xavier receives a call from the detectives, they are coming there to take charge. Joanne offers to take Maime’s place as the bait for the next experiment. Otto reassures Joanne and tells her to keep her eyes closed and to relax. I think he is the perpetrator.

Oh no! The one handed scientist has a fake hand of synthetic flesh that when he runs along the electrodes, comes to life! Using the synthetic flesh, he covers his face to disguise his true identity!

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Dressed as the monster, he goes back to the room where the experiment is to be performed and strangles Otto!! All of the scientists have been handcuffed to their chairs and are unable to help Joanne who is at Dr Wells’ mercy!

Taylor was disguised as one of the wax figure model and as the monster chokes Joanne, he attacks the monster aka Dr Wells.

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In their melee, Taylor hits him with a lamp and the synthetic flesh catches fire. Taylor pushes him out of the window and to his death.

Overall it is a smart movie. Especially to be 87 years old. With a run time of just over an hour, it doesn’t run on and on. I would recommend it!


Lionel Atwill Dr. Jerry Xavier
Fay Wray Joanne Xavier
Lee Tracy Lee Taylor
Preston Foster Dr. Wells
John Wray Dr. Haines
Harry Beresford Dr. Duke
Arthur Edmund Carewe Dr. Rowitz
Leila Bennett Mamie
Robert Warwick Police Commissioner Stevens
George Rosener Otto
Willard Robertson Detective O’Halloran
Thomas E. Jackson Daily World Editor (as Thomas Jackson)
Harry Holman Mike – Waterfront Policeman
Mae Busch Cathouse Madame
Tom Dugan Sheriff

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