TCMFF 2021: DOCTOR X (1932) + The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz short doc

 DOCTOR X (1932) © TCM Classic Film Festival 2021

Late Thursday night/very early Friday aka 1:30 a.m. Eastern, you can catch the TCM premiere of the recently restored Doctor X (1932).

I’ve always had a soft spot for two-strip Technicolor, and this particular film is a fun, appealing hybrid of horror and screwball comedy. For the Classic Film Festival, TCM has paired it with a short doc about director Michael Curtiz’ horror oeuvre. More after the jump!

Lionel Atwill, in his first major film, is the titular Doctor X, who runs a research lab in New York City, where a series of brutal murders are terrorizing the locals. Because the cops are sure the murderer has a medical background, X and his colleagues are suspects. Bent on changing their minds, the good? doctor is given 48 hours to prove their innocence, so he moves everyone to a big creepy old mansion on a cliff for some experiments.

Fast-talking Lee Tracy portrays Lee Taylor, an ethically-challenged tabloid reporter sniffing around for the killer. As he usually does, Tracy provides the comic relief, while O.G. scream queen Fay Wray, as Doctor X’s daughter Joanne, tries to prevent Taylor from doing any more damage to her dad’s reputation — it was his article that drew the attention to the Doctor and his motley staff in the first place.

The film was shot simultaneously in black-and-white and two-strip Technicolor. The color print was thought to be lost until one was found in Jack Warner’s archive after his death in 1978. The exquisite new (2020) remaster of Doctor X was restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment, and it’s truly stunning. You’ve never seen it this gorgeous.

The director of this decidedly Pre-Code horror with a large side of comedy was the prolific Michael Curtiz, whose unprecedented 27-year tenure at Warner Bros. included swashbuckling adventures, westerns, musicals, war epics, romances, historical dramas, horror films, tearjerkers, melodramas, comedies, and film noir masterpieces. The director’s staggering output of 180 films surpasses the combined total of films by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and Howard Hawks. Film historian Alan K. Rode (pronounced “roe-dee”), author of the recently published  Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film, the first comprehensive biography of the director, is featured in TCM’s short doc, The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz, which also premieres following Doctor X.

The must-see doc packs a lot of info and insight into its short running time. It’s a comprehensive look at Curtiz’ underappreciated work in horror, including Doctor X, The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and The Walking Dead (1936). It is a welcome spotlight on the anti-auteur who started his career in 1912 and whose work is as diverse as Captain Blood (1935), Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945) and White Christmas (1954), among many others. Additionally, the use of sound and music is extremely effective, evoking an almost paranormal aspect.

Doctor X (1932) + The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz are part of the 2021 Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival, which runs from Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 9 on the TCM network and the Classics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max. 

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