Cast & Crew
Reporter Lee Taylor watches as three men visit the morgue to examine the sixth body in a series of "moon murders:" strange murders involving cannibalism that always take place under the full moon. One of the men, Dr. Xavier, pronounces the murders to be the result of a fixation. Because the murders all occurred in the vicinity of his medical academy, Xavier asks the police for permission to conduct his own investigation and they reluctantly give him forty-eight hours. The residents of the academy are Xavier's daughter Joan; Dr. Wells, a student of cannibalism; Dr. Haines, who might have engaged in cannibalism when he was shipwrecked; Dr. Rowitz, who was shipwrecked with Haines; and Dr. Duke, Rowitz's assistant, and a student of the effects of lunar rays. Only Wells appears to be beyond suspicion because his missing arm makes it impossible for him to strangle anyone. Snooping outside the academy, Lee meets Joan. When he calls on her the next day, she tells him that his news stories have made it impossible for her father to conduct his experiments there. They all leave for Cliff Manor at Blackstone Shoals, Long Island, and Lee follows them. During Xavier's first attempt to find the murderer, the lights go out and Rowitz is killed. Joan volunteers to participate in the second experiment. This time, all the men except Wells are chained to their chairs. He secretly attaches synthetic flesh to his arm and face, which enables him to attack Joan, but he is stopped from killing her by Lee, who sets him on fire and pushes him out the window to the cliffs, where he burns to death.
Arthur Edmund Carewe
Doctor X (1932) was one of Warner Bros.'s first entries in the fledgling genre (after Svengali in 1931). Rather than depicting a supernatural tale in some European kingdom of long ago, Doctor X is a very contemporary, very American, horror film, entirely befitting the studio best known for its snappy, savvy, streetwise big-city dramas starring James Cagney or Warren William.
Lionel Atwill (Murders in the Zoo, 1933) stars as the titular Dr. Xavier, head of a medical academy located near the waterfront of Manhattan's Lower East Side. When evidence in a series of full-moon murders points to one of the employees of the institute, Dr. X moves his staff to his cliffside estate in Long Island. There, he arranges an elaborate reenactment of a murder -- a cross between a seance and a mad scientist's reanimation of the dead -- to unmask the identity of the killer. But the visionary doctor's plan goes awry when the actual killer takes the stage and threatens to kill the doctor's beloved daughter, Joanne (Fay Wray).
Through much of its plot, thick with rapid-fire dialogue, Doctor X betrays its origin as an adaptation of a stage play. However, when it delves into the realm of horror it conjures up sequences that are as visually inventive as they are disarmingly creepy. In the film's most fantastic sequence, the killer -- surrounded by sizzling electrical arcs and bubbling beakers -- masks his face in layers of "synthetic flesh," transforming himself into a misshapen, hollow-eyed brute, before committing his final crime upon Joanne as his colleagues, strapped to their chairs, are forced to watch.
The mask of death was one of the more unconventional creations of legendary Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor, who is better known (then and now) for glamour rather than the grotesque. Although her career had begun several years earlier in the silent era, Wray would forever be known as the cinema's definitive scream queen, primarily due to her work in the following year's King Kong (1933), where she stretched her lungs while being held in the hairy paw of the screen's most famous overgrown primate.
Providing a healthy dose of comic relief is Lee Tracy (Blessed Event, 1932) as the wisecracking reporter who violates every ethical standard in order to penetrate Dr. X's lair and solve the deadly mystery. The film's frequently lighthearted tone helped mask some of Doctor X's more sinister (and censorable) elements and make it more palatable to an audience that may not have been ready for unmitigated shocks. Just below this surface of levity, however, lurked something unmistakably macabre. As Hollywood scandalmonger Kenneth Anger wrote in his book Hollywood Babylon II: "There is something for everyone in this picture: cannibalism, dismemberment, rape, and necrophilia -- and a piquant kinky bonus when Atwill displays erotic arousal at the sight of Preston Foster unscrewing his artificial arm."
Atwill is one of cinema's more fascinating personalities, sitting in on murder trials in his spare time, cultivating a sinister image for himself, offscreen as well as on. "See -- one side of my face is gentle and kind, incapable of anything but love of my fellow man," he floridly explained to one reporter. "The other side, the other profile, is cruel and predatory and evil, incapable of anything but the lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you -- or the camera. It all depends on which side faces the moon at the ebb of the tide." It was the alternation between the sinister and the sympathetic that allowed Atwill to dominate Doctor X. His comic lines were more effective because they came from the lips of a seemingly diabolical doctor and were, more often than not, tinged with a flavor of morbidity that gives the film its bizarre tone.
During the making of Doctor X, director Michael Curtiz seems to have shown a dark side of his own. He reportedly shot the more frightening scenes late at night, when the studio was quiet and nearly deserted, and told grim ghost stories between setups in order to put his cast in the proper frame of mind. Born Mihaly Kertesz in Budapest in 1888, the talented and incredibly versatile Curtiz proved himself adept at drama (Casablanca, 1942), the musical (Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942), the costume epic (The Egyptian, 1954), the western (The Comancheros, 1961) and all genres in between.
In 1932, Curtiz wrote, "To be sure, stories of the fantastic, the horrible, the bizarre have been told with fullest success in black and white photography. But it has always been a question in my mind whether those very stories would not have been more gripping, more realistic, if they had been photographed in color such as we have employed with such unusual success in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Doctor X."
Filmed in the early "two-strip" Technicolor process (in which the colors are limited to varying shades of green and orange), Doctor X is endowed with a deathly pallor that enhances the film's creepy morgue-slab tone. Only a few color prints of the film were ever made (most theaters showed Doctor X in black and white), and for decades none were thought to have survived. In 1973, however, an original Technicolor print was found and has since been restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Robert Tasker and Earl Baldwin
Based on a play by Howard W. Comstock and Allen C. Miller
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan and Richard Tower
Production Design: Anton Grot
Film Editing: George Amy
Original Music: Bernhard Kaun
Principal Cast: Lionel Atwill (Dr. Xavier), Lee Tracy (Lee), Fay Wray (Joanne Xavier), Preston Foster (Dr. Wells), Arthur Edmond Carewe (Dr. Rowitz), Mae Busch (Madame).
by Bret Wood
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
She was born Vina Fay Wray, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was still a toddler so her father could find employment. When her parents divorced, her mother sent her to Hollywood when Fay's eldest sister died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The reasoning was that Southern California offered a healthier climate for the young, frail Wray.
She attended Hollywood High School, where she took some classes in drama. After she graduated, she applied to the Hal Roach studio and was given a six-month contract where she appeared in two-reel Westerns (25 minutes in length), and played opposite Stan Laurel in his pre-Oliver Hardy days.
She landed her first big role, as Mitzi Schrammell, in Erich von Stroheim's beautifully mounted silent The Wedding March (1928). It made Wray a star. She then starred in some excellent films: The Four Feathers (1929), the early Gary Cooper Western The Texan (1930), and one of Ronald Coleman's first starring roles The Unholy Garden (1931), all of which were big hits of the day.
For whatever reason, Wray soon found herself in a string of thrillers that made her one of the great screamers in Hollywood history. The titles say it all: Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat (both 1933) and, of course her most famous role, that of Ann Darrow, who tempts cinema's most famous ape in the unforgettable King Kong (also 1933).
Wray did prove herself quite capable in genre outside of the horror game, the best of which were Shanghai Madness with Spencer Tracy; The Bowery (both 1933), a tough pre-Hays Code drama opposite George Raft; and the brutal Viva Villa (1934), with Wallace Beery about the famed Mexican bandit. Yet curiously, the quality of her scripts began to tank, and she eventually found herself acting in such mediocre fare as Come Out of the Pantry (1935), and They Met in a Taxi (1936).
With her roles becoming increasingly routine, the last of which was the forgettable comedy Not a Ladies Man (1942), she decided to trade acting for domesticity and married Robert Riskin, who won two Best Screenplay Oscars® for the Frank Capra comedies It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). When Riskin died in 1955, Wray found herself working to keep busy and support her three children. She landed supporting parts for films like The Cobweb (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She also found work in television on such popular programs as Perry Mason and Wagon Train before she retired from acting all together in the mid-'60s.
To her credit, Wray did remain reasonably active after her retirement. She published her autobiography, On The Other Hand in 1989 and was attending many film festivals that honored her contribution to film, most notably in January 2003, when, at 95 years of age, she accepted in person her "Legend in Film" Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Wray is survived by a son, Robert Riskin Jr.; two daughters, Susan and Victoria; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
This is the film for which Michael Curtiz is quoted as saying, "This will make your blood curl!"
The play opened in New York City, New York, USA on 9 February 1931 and had 80 performances.
Warner Bros. paid $5,000 for the rights to the play.
Film Daily credits Ray Rennahan with Technicolor photography. Modern sources add the following information: Black and white prints were shipped to small towns and to foreign markets, while color prints were reserved for major cities. The film was one of the last made using the two-strip Technicolor process and it was the first horror film to be shot in color. The color version of the film was thought to be lost untilthe 1970s. Warner Bros. decided to make the film to complete their contract with Technicolor, since the two-strip process had not proved popular with the public. The studio bought the rights to the play for $5000. According to some modern sources, Michael Curtiz shot the film late at night after other units had left the studio and told ghost stories to the cast in order to create the proper atmosphere. Others maintain that Curtiz shot fifteen hours a day in order to impress studio head Jack Warner with his efficiency, but that he did not shoot exclusively at night. The love scenes between Fay Wray and Lee Tracy were shot at Laguna Beach. Technical advisor Dr. C. E. Warriner worked at the Glendale Bureau of Biological Research. This was Wray's first horror film, closely followed by the Warner Bros. film The Mystery of the Wax Museum which was also shot in two-strip Technicolor (see below). Modern sources list the following additional credits: Spec photo eff Fred Jackman; Assistant Director Al Alborn, Marshall Hageman; Makeup Perc Westmore, Ray Romero; Hair Ruth Pursley; Props Limey Plews; Grip Owen Crompton; Sound Recording Bob Lee, Stills Charles Scott Welborn; Contr to scr const George Rosener; Executive Producer Darryl Zanuck, Hal Wallis; Technicolor 2nd cam W. Howard Greene; Technicolor asst cam Thad Brooks, Floyd Lee; Second cam Carl Guthrie; Camera Ellsworth Fredericks, Ernest Haller, William N. Williams, W. Robinson.
Released in United States 1932
Released in United States 1932