The Mad Doctor of Market Street
Cast & Crew
Joseph H. Lewis
Photos & Videos
Mad scientist Ralph Benson has been doing regeneration experiments on animals in his laboratory on Market Street in San Francisco. He convinces destitute R. B. Saunders to be his first human experiment for the sum of $1,000. When Saunders fails to come home that night, his wife contacts the police, who have been investigating the crazed chemist for some time. Saunders dies during the failed experiment, and Benson escapes just as the police arrive at his lab. He then shaves his beard and boards the passenger ship S.S. Paradise to New Zealand under the name "Graham." Knowing that policeman Crandall is on his trail, Benson knocks the officer out and throws him overboard. When passenger Patricia Wentworth is told of the murder, she relates the story to her aunt, Margaret Wentworth, who gossips the news across the ship. An arson fire soon breaks out, and as the ship begins to sink, the passengers are forced to board life boats. Margaret, Patricia, boxer Red Hogan, steward Jim, ship's officer Dwight and Benson are then shipwrecked together on a South Sea island. The natives, believing that "white men are evil spirits," plan to burn the survivors to death, but when Benson apparently brings Tanao, the wife of island chief Elan, back to life, the chemist is proclaimed "God of Life" and master of the island. He orders the lifeboat burned and tells his fellow passengers that he plans to keep them on the island as "subjects" for his experiments. On Tanao's advice, Benson decides to take "a white wife" and proposes to Patricia. Although she wants to refuse, the group convinces Patricia that she should accept the proposal as a delaying tactic. Benson then tells his "fiancée" that he plans to start his experiments with one of the three white men. The group plans to escape the island in a canoe, but Tanao learns of their scheme and warns Benson. Before they can leave, Benson orders Elan to capture Jim. When the others refuse to leave without Jim, Dwight takes the canoe himself, but he is discovered by native youth Barab and the two drown each other. Benson, as part of his experiments, imprisons Jim in a cave, but he agrees to release the steward as soon as Patricia marries him. A native wedding is performed, but Benson does not release Jim. Red and Margaret then convince the natives to force Benson to release and revive the steward. Afterward, Jim tells Margaret and Red that he was not actually dead, just in a state of "suspended animation," and that Tanao never died either, as she had merely suffered a heart attack. The three then find the drowned Barab and take him to Benson. Benson finally agrees to let the group leave the island, only to have Elan and the natives arrive and demand that Benson bring Barab back to life. When he is unable to do so, Elan orders Benson burned to death. Meanwhile, the four survivors sneak away from the village, just in time to signal a rescue plane. The plane whisks the four away, much to the delight of the pilots, who realize that they will receive a $10,000 reward from Sir Archibald, Margaret's Australian fiancé. During the flight back to civilization, Jim proposes to Patricia, who gladly accepts.
Joseph H. Lewis
Bernard B. Brown
Ralph M. Delacy
R. A. Gausman
H. J. Salter
The Mad Doctor of Market Street
At the time tropical island adventure films were popular with the public and Universal contributed to the genre with such low-budget, profitable releases as One Night in the Tropics (1940), South of Tahiti (1941), Moonlight in Hawaii (1941) and Pardon My Sarong (1942). In fact, The Mad Doctor of Market Street began as an exotic romp entitled Terror of the South Seas. The movie, however, opens in San Francisco, which explains its final release title.
Dr. Benson (Atwill) is conducting experiments in suspended animation and needs something more substantial than laboratory animals for his tests....like human subjects. Promising great sums of money, Benson lures a destitute man to his laboratory but the experiment is a failure, the man dies and the doctor is forced to flee the city with the police on his trail. Bound for Australia with a new identity, Benson is shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island with a handful of survivors. Faced with certain death from the hostile islanders, Benson convinces the tribal chief he is the "God of Life" when he revives the leader's comatose wife with an adrenalin injection. The ruse works and Benson begins enjoying the status of a deity, worshipped by the natives and able to command them to do his bidding. Part of his master plan includes Patricia (Claire Dodd), a fellow shipwreck survivor whom he intends to marry despite her devotion to her fiancé Jim (Richard Davies). "Just as the natives worship me so will the whole world." But as Dr. Benson's enormous ego rages out of control, so do the suspicions of Elan (Noble Johnson), the tribal chief.
Filmed on the Universal backlot with a less than three week shooting schedule, The Mad Doctor of Market Street was a low-budget affair that utilized the studio's contract players and gave rising director Joseph H. Lewis an opportunity to demonstrate his versatility with little production money. Lewis, who would later acquire a reputation as an auteur with film critics for stylish B-movies such as Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955), brings a lively visual flair to The Mad Doctor of Market Street and designs some striking set pieces such as the luxury liner disaster sequence and the tense final scene when Benson's alleged godlike powers are put to the test.
According to a wire service story, released during the making of the movie, "Atwill was doing an operating scene in this film when he himself called a halt to the action. He explained that he had just realized that his steps in applying cotton, needle, sponge and stethoscope to his patient were wrongly sequenced. Calling for another 'take.' Atwill did the scene in his liking, then jokingly asked for an extra check for being his own technical adviser!"
Richard Davies, who plays the luxury liner's steward in The Mad Doctor of Market Street, remarked in an interview that Atwill "was the star of the picture and we just had a speaking acquaintance. He was a good enough actor so that his personal problems did not affect his performance." Davies' mention of Atwill's personal problems was probably referencing a recent accusation against the actor for showing pornographic films and hosting an "orgy" in his home, a charge he denied. However, his testimony was later disproved and he was charged with perjury, resulting in a sentence of five years' probation.
The Mad Doctor of Market Street might not be one of Universal's finest horror entries or even Lionel Atwill's best mad doctor performance, but it's an entertaining, fast-paced programmer which holds up much better than you'd expect. Geoff Andrew of the TimeOut Film Guide delivered this contemporary critique of the film: "Lewis at his low budget looniest, and barely the worse for that. The material is preposterously absurd... Everything is cheap, tacky and infantile, but you can't help but admire the way Lewis balances his evident, slyly humorous disdain for the script and production values with a surprisingly professional pretence at some sort of commitment. Zomboid fun."
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay: Al Martin
Cinematography: Jerome Ash
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Film Editing: Ralph Dixon
Principal Cast: Una Merkel (Aunt Margaret Wentworth), Lionel Atwill (Dr. Ralph Benson, posing as Graham), Nat Pendleton (Red Hogan), Claire Dodd (Patricia Wentworth), Anne Nagel (Mrs. William Saunders), Hardie Albright (William Saunders), Richard Davies (Jim), John Eldredge (Dwight, Ship's Officer), Ray Mala (Barab), Noble Johnson (Native Chief Elan).
by Jeff Stafford
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 by Michael Brunas, John Brunas and Tom Weaver (McFarland)
Horror Film Stars by Michael R. Pitts (McFarland)
The Mad Doctor of Market Street
The working titles of this film were Terror of the Islands and Terror of the South Seas. While the end credits list the character played by Hardie Albright as "William Saunders," he is identified in the film as "R. B. Saunders." Modern sources include Tom Steele (Policeman) in the cast.