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Humphrey Bogart...as a vampire? Bogie the bloodsucker? Count Bogiela? It may seem like the strangest casting in film history, but for Warner Bros. in 1939, casting Bogart in the title role of The Return of Dr. X was money in the bank.
For Bogie, however, it was just business as usual. He had signed with Warner's in 1935 to re-create his stage success as Duke Mantee, the psychotic gangster in The Petrified Forest. But though the film was a hit, Warner's already had James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson on board as gangster stars. So Bogie was thrust into a series of mostly thankless roles - 'as many films as the studio could wring out of him. The Return of Dr. X was one of seven pictures he made in 1939. The role of a bloodsucking zombie who spent most of the film stroking his pet rabbit had originally been offered to Bela Lugosi. When he turned it down, Bogie had to make the best of it. To make matters worse, the closest he got to a romantic interest in the film was drinking the leading lady's blood. He would later say, "If it had been Jack Warner's blood maybe I wouldn't have minded as much."
Even this early in his career, Bogart was notorious for turning down roles. He didn't turn this one down, though, because it marked the directorial debut of his good friend Vincent Sherman. Sherman had started at Warner's a year earlier as a writer, and had given Bogart two of his best scripts, Crime School and King of the Underworld.
Sherman almost ended his career his first day on the set. Even though he was working with B movie veterans like producer Bryan Foy and cameraman Sid Hickox, Sherman started out shooting the film like an A picture. When he took ten takes of one simple 45-second shot, Jack Warner sent Foy a memo threatening, "If he does this again he won't be on the picture any longer." The finished film turned a nice profit, however, ensuring Sherman a place in the studio's roster of directors. It continues to delight fans who want to see Bogie at his strangest.
Director: Vincent Sherman
Producer: Hal B. Wallis & Jack L. Warner (executive), Bryan Foy (associate, uncredited)
Screenplay: Lee Katz, based on the novel 'The Doctor's Secret' by William J. Makin
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Editor: Thomas Pratt
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Cast: Wayne Morris (Walter 'Wichita' Garrett), Rosemary Lane (Joan Vance), Humphrey Bogart (Marshall Quesne), Dennis Morgan (Dr. Mike Rhodes), John Litel (Dr. Francis Flegg).
BW-63m. Descriptive video.
by Frank Miller
The Return of Dr. X (1939)
Actor and writer Vincent Sherman won his first directing assignment on the Humphrey Bogart picture The Return of Doctor X (1939), a bizarre thriller that barely qualifies as a horror picture. The film is not a sequel to the older Michael Curtiz horror hit Dr. X (1932), in which Preston Foster used 'synthetic flesh' to transform himself into a monster. The more light-hearted Return seems intended as a showcase for Warners' studio-bred hopefuls Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan. Although writers Lee Katz and William J. Mahin's tale includes a doctor raising the dead and an ill-defined 'medical vampire,' nothing overly gruesome develops. A reporter (Morris) and a hospital intern (Morgan) instead investigate like overgrown Hardy Boys, at one point digging up a corpse to help solve the mystery. Humphrey Bogart took a break from second-banana gangsters to play surgeon's assistant Marshall Quesne, a role more suited to Boris Karloff. Bogart piles on the gimmicks: Quesne is a pasty-faced, staring zombie with a freakish white streak in his hair. He wears a pince-nez and enters petting a rabbit, speaking in a curious whisper. Two years after playing this Bogie-bogeyman, the actor would leap to top stardom with The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra (both 1941). When the war came Wayne Morris distinguished himself as a Navy flier, while Dennis Morgan became a popular homefront heartthrob, fighting the battle of the Warner back lot.
By Glenn Erickson