Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Return of Dr. X.

Every actor has something on the resume they're not exactly proud of. Elizabeth Taylor has Butterfield 8, Bette Davis has Beyond the Forest, Christopher Lee and Nicholas Cage have a few of their own. Hey, we've all taken a bad gig while struggling, or did it for the paycheck because we wanted a vacation or a dinosaur skull or a backyard water park. But there are some actors we consider beyond such things....
... like you'd never think Humphrey Bogart played a zombie or a mad scientist or a zombie mad scientist. But, well, you've never seen The Return of Dr. X. No relation to Dr. X.--it's not a sequel--or to The Revenge of Dr. X., which was written by Ed Wood and is only marginally worse.
So the upshot is that this really annoying intrepid reporter type--played by Wayne Morris as an annoying goofball dork with highwater pants and his fedora flipped up like a hayseed--is trying to interview a famous actress. You can tell she's a famous actress because she lives  in a luxury hotel, wears satin negligees and has a pet monkey and a indiscriminately foreign accent. She is played by Lya Lys, better known from her role in Bunuel's L'Age d'Or. Hey, surrealist manifestos don't pay the bills, aight?
However, when Intrepid Reporter gets to her suite, Famous Actress is dead. Stabbed. Intrepid Reporter prints the story that Famous Actress is dead. Doesn't tell the hotel manager, doesn't call the cops, just leaves the body and informs the authorities with a front-page headline. Of course, Famous Actress turns up, quite pale but very much alive and threatening to sue. But then another body drained of a rare blood type--the same as Famous Actress--turns up and Intrepid Reporter busts into the hospital where he makes friends with Random Doctor.
And just when Random Doctor sends off Intrepid Reporter with the orders to "come back when you sober up" (But he's not drunk; he's just stupid.), Random Doctor is promptly summoned to another hotel room with a dead body, this time "a professional donor," also of the same rare blood type. 
Another blood spot is found at the crime scene, but "It's not... human." Which leads Intrepid Reporter to figure it must be a -- "Gorilla murder... Aw, Mike, if you can figure that one out we'll have a front-page spread on every newspaper in the country for weeks!" (Gorilla murder, Donald Trump candidacy--tomato, tomahto, same difference.) But it's not gorilla, or even animal, so Random Doctor goes to visit a hematologist colleague of his, Dr. Flake. It is here he meets Humphrey Bogart as Kang, apparently Dr, Flake's Renfield figure.
Dr. Flake gives Random Doctor the brush-off and he leaves. Shortly thereafter, Famous Actress arrives, makeup gun apparently set on Three-Day Drunk Elvira, begs Dr. Flake and Kang for help and passes out. All of this is witnessed through a window by Intrepid Reporter.
Rosemary Lane pops up as Joan, Intrepid Reporter's girlfriend who is only present because apparently she's some kind of Uber. Also to prevent us from assuming the obvious about Intrepid Reporter and Random Doctor. (She doesn't and, yes, we've already assumed it about Flake and Kang as well.)

I didn't know Dave Vanian's dad was a butler but, really, it makes perfect sense.

Neither of these men are at all creepy. Which is why Famous Actress still has them for her doctors. And probably why Famous Actress winds up dead. Again. For real this time.
So, yadda yadda yadda, it turns out that Flake is doing experiments raising rabbits and humans from the dead. Among his experiments: Kang, who is actually the feared Dr. X. who was "that skunk who wanted to see how long babies could go without eatin'" and subsequently got the chair. There's some poking around in funeral homes and graveyards and they finally go back to see Dr. Flake who is all like "Hell, yeah, I brought an electrocuted baby murderer back from the dead and am now draining human blood to keep him alive. What?" Of course then Kang reappears and demands the vampire rolodex of people with the magic blood type he needs.  Of course one of them is Joan the Uber-Beard. And off we go...
Bear in mind that this film was released in 1939, long cited as the greatest year in cinema history. The year of Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, The Women, Destry Rides Again, Laughton's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dark Victory ... and The Return of Dr. X. Ultimately, The Return of Dr. X. is an unremarkable C-grade horror movie that's not particularly horrifying at all. It's sole distinction is the slumming appearance as a zombie mad scientist sorta vampire from one of the most respected and iconic stars of all time.
* Also, i found out in the credits that it's apparently Dr. Flegg and his assistant Quesne. Whatever.
I'm sticking with Flake and Kang.

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