Friday, November 27, 2009

Humphrey Bogart as Dr. X


A lot of people aren't aware that Bogey actually did have one bogeyman role, in 1939's The Return of Dr. X. The Original Dr. X was about the development of synthetic flesh for nefarious purposes. The main connection the sequel has is a new Dr. X (Bogart's Dr. Maurice Xavier) and the development of synthetic blood for initially altruistic purposes (but you know how that goes). It was an embarrassing role in a b movie for Bogart at a time when the actor's ship was just coming in (he was about to start on a movie called High Sierra, which would launch him to stardom) but it's interesting for it's novelties. First of all, it has Bogart in his only horror movie role. The character of Dr. X is also interesting because it seems to anticipate the Nazi mad scientist--a staple of the horror genre in the decades to come--who sees his unwilling experimental subjects as quite disposable to his ambition to live forever.

The movie is very competently shot by busy director Vincent Sherman (who lived to be 100!), with all the trademarks of what would more recently come to be known as cinema noir, but it is the protagonist's odd introduction to Bogart's unnerving bespectacled Dr. X, stroking a lab rabbit (a rabbit which has some significance in the story), that really struck my fancy. It was ripe for a Warner Bros. send-up starring Bugs Bunny as the rabbit. Due to a mysterious affliction, Dr. X has a ghastly pallor, a hand that's cold to the touch and a lame left arm. And the white streaks in his hair, which garners a probably unintended association when one character refers to him as a skunk. The movie's plot is rife with unfunny comic relief offset by chuckle-inspiring science and it's at least worth a look for fans of the genre and of famous actors in early camp roles. Curiously, the trailer for The Return of Dr. X is made from footage not seen in the actual movie and seems to play up Bogart's typical gangster persona and hints at a rather more interesting movie.

3 comments:

Bob Lizarraga said...

Fantastic!!

Bob Lizarraga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Ring said...

Thanks!