Saturday, February 27, 2010

THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX (1942) IS NOT REALLY A HORROR MOVIE, OF COURSE, BUT IT'S ALWAYS LISTED AS ONE. That's no biggie. A lot of movie people (or even I) call horror movies aren't; we just include them in that genre because, as in this case, it stars someone closely associated with the horror genre. That person would be Lionel Atwill, of course. The funny thing is that Atwill basically only has an extended cameo in this film (even though he's billed second and it's universally considered a "Lionel Atwill film"). The basic doings go like this: five criminals were acquitted of their crimes but, after being found not guilty, are murdred by a mysterious Doctor Rx. A private eye named Church is hired to catch the murderer; he is helped (?) by his faithful valet and his new bride. Various "mysterious" hijinx ensue.
THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX is more of a light mystery with comedy elements. Directed by William Nigh (who brought us such cinematic classics as THE GHOST AND THE GUEST, MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN and THE APE), the film was originally called DOCTOR RX but received a name change so that it would not be confused with the old Warner Bros. technicolor horror DOCTOR X starring the self-same Lionel Atwill. Here, as stated, Atwill appears VERY briefly; in the entire film he probably has 5 minutes screen time tops. The real leading man of the film is Patric Knowles; veteran of the classic Universal horror films THE WOLF MAN and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. He is ably assisted by leading lady Anne Gwynne; another Universal veteran featured in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, WEIRD WOMAN and BLACK FRIDAY. Frankly, Ms. Gwynne has never been more charming or watchable than in this film. Knowles himself is also eminently watchable and likeable. Thankfully, that's a good thing since there's precious little in the way of horror or suspense going on during the entire length of the movie so a likeable pair of actors on screen most of the time helps things considerably. The movie is REALLY saved by, as usual, Mantan Moreland as Knowles' valet. Whenever Moreland is on the screen things brighten up tens times! Basically that was Moreland's function in most of the programmers he was in: to ratchet up the entertainment factor when the film is flagging. Mantan does have quite a bit of screen time (thankfully for the movie's sake) but it STILL isn't nearly enough. Minor character roles are filled out by familiar contract players Samuel S. Hinds, Shemp Howard (who was in the Three Stooges shorts at the time as well) and Paul Cavanagh. Included among these SHOULD be Lionel Atwill who has less screen time than Hinds or Shemp or Cavanagh. Classic screen villain Atwill cuts a suitably menacing figure in his thick coke-bottle glasses but . . . well . . . he's hardly ever there! All in all, I've seen a lot worse than THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX. As these low budget mystery programmers from the 1940s go, this one is actually more entertaining than most; and we can thank the very likeable stars Mantan Moreland, Anne Gwynne, Patric Knowles and Lionel Atwill almost entirely for that.

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