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The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) may well be the worst-titled Warner Bros. picture of the 1930s, but if you think the title is off-kilter, wait until you get a load of the plot. This Edward G. Robinson-Humphrey Bogart re-teaming - the two scored a previous box office success with Bullets or Ballots (1936) -- smacks of studio heads desperately trying to wring a new angle out of their tried-and-true gangster genre. Although it's certainly not one of Warner's more challenging offerings, Dr.Clitterhouse is still worth watching for its entertainingly wacky narrative.
Robinson plays the titular Dr. Clitterhouse, a supposedly brilliant criminologist who's convinced that illegal activity can actually change a person's personality. In order to prove his theory, Clitterhouse joins a gang of crooks headed by the aptly-named Rocks Valentine (Bogart), for whom Clitterhouse masterminds a series of heists. Unfortunately, Rocks grows concerned that Clitterhouse's massive intellect will unseat him as the gang leader. This leads to a case of blackmail, a character getting poisoned for the sake of science, and Clitterhouse skirting jail time through an utterly laughable courtroom defense. Perhaps the most incredible thing about this ridiculous script is that it was co-written by a young John Huston!
At least Robinson gets to sink his teeth into a meaty role amidst all the insanity. Bogart is trapped playing yet another brooding tough-guy who badly needs a shave. Bogey was still a few years away from major stardom at this point, and, much like his Warner Bros. counterpart, James Cagney, badly wanted to break free of the gangster carousel that he felt was holding him back. Still, given his lackadaisical approach to becoming a performer, it's a wonder he appeared in any movies at all.
Later in his career, Bogart would admit that the Rocks Valentine character from The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was one of his least favorite roles. Robinson, on the other hand, was quite happy with the roles Warner Bros. was assigning him. He had just returned from working on The Last Gangster (1937) at Metro and, admittedly, had other things on his mind besides film work at this time. "I returned to Warner's to make A Slight Case of Murder  from a play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay. I had absolutely no fault to find with the script because it was beautifully constructed and written and it was very funny. Nor did I object in any way to The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, which I made next. This was all during 1938 and 1939, and what was happening in the world made the making of movies seem almost absurd: Anschluss with Austria; the Russian invasion of Finland; Munich; Chamberlain's peace in our time; the Russo-German Pact; The War. I have made no bones about the fact that I belonged to and supported every organization that was opposed to Hitler" (from Robinson's autobiography, All My Yesterdays.)
When The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse opened theatrically, it was well received by most reviewers and moviegoers. Variety called it "an unquestionable winner" and went on to note that "Robinson...is at his best" and "Bogart's interpretation of the gangster chief...is topflight." Anatole Litvak, who had only directed one other film at Warners (Tovarich, 1937), proved he had a knack for crime melodramas with The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse and went on to helm such distinctive efforts as Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Castle on the Hudson (1940) and City for Conquest (1940).
Producers: Anatole Litvak, Robert Lord
Director: Anatole Litvak
Screenplay: John Huston, John Wexley (based on the play by Barre Lyndon)
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editor: Warren Low
Music: Max Steiner
Art Design: Carl Jules Weyl
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Principal Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Dr. Clitterhouse), Claire Trevor (Jo Keller), Humphrey Bogart (Rocks Valentine), Gale Page (Nurse Randolph), Donald Crisp (Inspector Lane), Allen Jenkins (Okay), Thurston Hall (Grant), John Litel (Prosecuting Attorney), Henry O'Neill (Judge), Maxie Rosenbloom (Butch).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara