Dr. Cyclops (1940) was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and produced by Merian C. Cooper. The Cooper-Schoedsack team had been responsible for one of the greatest fantasy films of all time, King Kong (1933), as well as other movies in the adventure and horror genres, such as The Most Dangerous Game (1932), The Monkey's Paw (1933), The Son of Kong (1933), and The Last Days of Pompeii (1935). Schoedsack was later to say of Dr. Cyclops that the entire production had been "plotted on blueprints" before shooting began. This is no doubt a reference to storyboards used to chart the action, as well as to literal blueprints many elements of the full-size set in which Dr. Thorkel lives and works were reproduced as super-size, to make it appear as if his victims were only inches tall. The attention to detail in these sets is astonishing, and goes a long way in selling the reality of the fantastic story. There were also several excellent process shots in the film, for scenes in which Thorkel towered above the shrunken humans. Gordon Jennings and Farciot Edouart were nominated for an Oscar® for Best Special Effects, but lost to the work in the effects-heavy fantasy classic, The Thief of Bagdad (1940).
At first glance an odd candidate to be given the Technicolor treatment (Dr. Cyclops was the first horror movie since Mystery of the Wax Museum in 1933 to be shot in color), the film benefits greatly from the choice. The lush jungle greens and the eerie glows of the radium chamber give Dr. Cyclops the look of a 1930s science-fiction magazine cover come-to-life; the borderline garishness and tendency for 3-strip Technicolor toward a hyper-realism is in keeping with the pulp nature of the story. It is no accident that the producers convinced Paramount Pictures to go with color photography - Merian C. Cooper had been one of the early investors in Technicolor, and with "Jock" Whitney, had formed Pioneer Pictures in the 1930s to co-produce features in the process.
Writing in The New York Times, reviewer B. R. Crisler found a "camp" value to the film, long before that term had been coined: "...as a cinematic spectacle, Dr. Cyclops is the best bad picture of the year, an epic of silliness, and, more than that, a triumph of the process screen and the department of trick effects all combined very tastefully and what matter if the taste is almost uniformly bad? with Technicolor. In its peculiar way, it is a monument to the ever-expanding universe of the cinema where, occasionally, anything goes, including flagrant violations of the basic physical and chemical laws... It is a pleasure to concede that Paramount has r'ared back and passed a minor miracle: a picture which is frankly terrible, and at the same time one of the most amusing of the season."
In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, Phil Hardy calls the film "marvelous," and says it is "gloriously photographed in Technicolor ...and imaginatively directed by Schoedsack." Harday also writes that "The special effects, mostly mattes and back projection, are well executed... but it is the simple central idea that gives the movie its power."
Director Schoedsack is credited with only one other assignment following Dr. Cyclops, the delightful RKO Kong follow-up Mighty Joe Young (1949). Not unlike Dr. Thorkel, Schoedsack had been suffering from failing eyesight for several years. He assisted, without credit, on compiling the prologue for Cooper's introduction to yet another film process, This is Cinerama (1952), but by this time Schoedsack was almost completely blind.
Producer: Merian C. Cooper, Dale Van Every
Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenplay: Tom Kilpatrick
Cinematography: Winton C. Hoch, Henry Sharp
Film Editing: Ellsworth Hoagland
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick
Music: Gerard Carbonara, Albert Hay Malotte, Ernst Toch
Production Design: A. E. Freudeman
Visual Effects: Jan Domela, Paul K. Lerpae
Cast: Albert Dekker (Dr. Alexander Thorkel), Thomas Coley (Bill Stockton), Janice Logan (Dr. Mary Robinson), Charles Halton (Dr. Rupert Bulfinch), Victor Kilian (Steve Baker), Frank Yaconelli (Pedro), Paul Fix (Dr. Mendoza), Frank Reicher (Professor Kendall).
by John M. Miller