The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

Directed by William Nigh [Other horror films: The House of Mystery (1934), The Ape (1940), The Ghost and the Guest (1943)]

This is another one of those movies that I’ve seen the title of quite a bit but never took the time to check out until now. I generally found this little movie enjoyable, but it’s quite typical of the time (or more specifically, of the 1930’s), and I don’t know if it’ll really end up that memorable a film.

Certainly the central plot is interesting, what with a serial killer going around and killing seemingly-guilty men who were found not guilty by the court system. There’s not really a lot of playing around with the vigilante aspect, but I did find the idea itself worth it.

Not that the film doesn’t play around a bit. There’s a fair amount of comedy thrown in (though this is never really an outright horror-comedy unless Moreland’s character is on screen), and despite the short run-time, there is a bit of focus on arguably more unnecessary scenes (such as one toward the end in which a gorilla randomly popped up).

Patric Knowles made for a decent and witty lead. He’s not a name I necessarily know (though he was in one of my favorite classic films, The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938, along with appearing in The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), but while not spectacular, he did good here. Anne Gwynne (The Black Cat from 1941, House of Frankenstein and Weird Woman) was also fine, but I can’t say that, at times, her character did rather annoy me.

Few others really merit a mention – I enjoyed Lionel Atwill in movies such as Doctor X, Murders in the Zoo, and The Vampire Bat, but here, he doesn’t really do all that much, nor make much an impression. Edmund MacDonald’s character annoyed me more than anything, and Shemp Howard had potential, but was used primarily for failed comedic relief.

And to an extent, the same could be said of Mantan Moreland, a rather well-known African-American actor (and who I personally love in King of the Zombies), but half of Moreland’s dialogue was actually somewhat amusing (“I forgot to remember to get it”) in that horribly antiquated racist way. And of course, his cowardly antics here (which was a must for black actors in this time period, apparently) got old quick, but that’s no fault of Moreland.

I did like portions of the mystery here, and though he was only really in a single sequence, Doctor Rx did look pretty cool (he wore a hood, not too unlike The Town That Dreaded Sundown’s mysterious killer). I just wish he had more to do in terms of action than he did. And while his identity was decent, I just can’t help but feel the mystery was missing something.

Little in The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is that memorable, and that’s the biggest issue. I don’t doubt it’s largely watchable, and maybe even to an extent, enjoyable, but ultimately, I just don’t think it amounts to much.


Cat People (1942)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur [Other horror films: I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943), Night of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), War-Gods of the Deep (1965)]

This RKO production doesn’t have the same impact that a Universal horror film would have, but it’s still a mostly fine film, though elements of the plot don’t entirely work for me.

At times, the film is appropriately moody, and the heavy use of shadows during the more suspenseful sequences (perhaps the pool scene being the best example of this) really lent the film a darker feel, but the bigger problem here is the route the plot took, which truthfully came as a surprise to me.

The antagonist of the film wasn’t at all the individual who I at first thought it would be, and like I said, when it becomes obvious where the movie’s going (about half-way through, probably), I was taken aback. Personally, I would have changed a few things, maybe instead move the film toward an ending more like The Leopard Man from 1943, which I enjoyed quite a bit more.

Still, Cat People isn’t a bad movie, by any means. The main cast are all great (though Jane Randolph’s character really grated on me), and when the film drifts away from the drama to a more suspenseful film, the scenes stand out well. When Randolph’s character is walking home, and then suspects someone following behind, it’s a jolly good time.

All this said, though, I just can’t get over the somewhat disappointing route the film took. In some ways, I felt as though elements were almost xenophobic, though I know that wasn’t the intent. I guess I was looking for perhaps a more conventional fair, and this one veers a different direction. It doesn’t pack the punch a Universal film generally did, so while I’d tepidly recommend it, I do think you could do much better for 1940’s horror.


The Mad Monster (1942)

Directed by Sam Newfield [Other horror films: Dead Men Walk (1943), The Monster Maker (1944), The Flying Serpent (1946), Gigantis: The Fire Monster (1959)]

I think I was much too harsh on this when I first saw it. The Mad Monster’s certainly on the lower spectrum of 40’s horror flicks, but I don’t know if it’s entirely bottom of the barrel, and you could still get some entertainment value out of it.

Being an early werewolf movie (released a year after the classic The Wolf Man), this film lacks the more supernatural origin of the werewolf (such as a curse) and instead relies on a scientifically-created wolf man: a simple-minded handyman (played by Glenn Strange), who a scientist (George Zucco) uses to extract revenge on those who deemed his scientific ideas mad.

In all fairness, as Zucco’s first scene has the scientist seeing visions of the four scientists scorning him for these same ideas, and Zucco replies to them in a tone that reaches shouting before long, one could probably forgive those who find Zucco’s character mentally unbalanced.

Zucco gives a pretty good performance here, as it is. Zucco appeared in a fair amount of B-level horror films in the 1940’s before his retirement from acting, and while this performance isn’t his most memorable, it is a good portrayal of a truly mad scientist. Glenn Strange did great in his simple-minded role, and I thought he was perhaps the real stand-out here. Anne Nagel and Johnny Downs were both decent in their roles, though Downs didn’t really have all that much to do until the ending, and Nagel almost never had anything to do.

Another thing that positively stood out were portions of the setting, especially the mist-covered marshlands where some of the action took place. It had a suitably creepy vibe, despite the cheapness of the film, and I’ve personally always liked how swamps look, especially in black-and-white. I wish more of the horror sequences had taken place in such a setting, though.

When all’s said and done, The Mad Monster certainly pales in comparison to some of the classics of the 1940’s, and really, would probably only appeal to fans of the lower-end B movies of the time period (such as The Monster Maker, coincidentally directed by the same guy). I enjoyed it more this time around than when I first saw it, but ultimately, there’s so many more memorable and just plain better movies out there than this one. I did appreciate the victim choices, though, so kudos there.


The Undying Monster (1942)


Directed by John Brahm [Other horror films: The Lodger (1944), The Mad Magician (1954)]

Even for the time period, this early werewolf flick didn’t really add much to the genre. That said, it’s a perfectly competent film, and it’s mystery even allows it to harken back to the more classic old-dark house-type films.

None of this is to say the story itself is bad – it’s a somewhat fun little mystery with possibly supernatural aspects thrown in along with more than a few suspects. The movie hits hard on the procedural part of detective work, too, and even throws in a ten-minute coroner inquest. Of course, this wasn’t always the most thrilling material, but it did lend an authentic feel to the film.

John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, and James Ellison all do pretty well in their roles, though I will say without the mustaches, I’d have likely found the three indistinguishable. Heather Angel was perfectly fine as the leading woman (and even had some strength not often seen in women from older films), though Heather Thatcher came across as annoying most of her time on-screen (likely because she was the comedy relief character). Halliwell Hobbes, though a name I’m not familiar with in the least, was perhaps one of the most memorable performances, playing a life-long butler with a secret.

And of course, this is where a lot of the fun has always come from these types of films – multiple parties throughout the movie, all with deep secrets and their own goals. That’s why films like The Last Warning and The Bat Whispers are films I often speak fondly about when discussing this era, and that’s why this one is a bit better than you might at first suspect.

Truth be told, when I first saw this film, I was somewhat bored, even though the film’s just over an hour long. The issue was that there weren’t nearly as many ‘scary’ sequences as you’d hope, which is still an issue now. However, I appreciate the way they approached this, in an almost-scientific mind-frame, so while it’s not always overly exciting or engaging, there’s still something to see.

Coming out just a year following The Wolf Man, and seven years off Werewolf of London, The Undying Monster does little to add to or really expand on the addition of werewolves to the horror genre, especially when the film plays out like an old dark-house mystery with a werewolf thrown in last minute. Even though it’s not dripping in originality, it’s still a competent film, and the setting, an old mansion near the cliff-side, certainly brings a pleasant atmosphere to it.