Doctor X (Michael Curtiz / U.S., 1932):

The waterfront morgue might be Transylvania, only it's Long Island in the grip of a murder spree, a vintage Michael Curtiz delectation. "Gentlemen... This is cannibalism." The tenor is split keenly between Lionel Atwill's stentorian declaration over a mauled corpse and Lee Tracy's ad-libbed jitters in the newsroom, two worlds fused via alchemic mise en scéne. (As in its companion piece Mystery of the Wax Museum, the two-strip Technicolor posits an eternal wrestling of dynamic and decaying hues.) The killer is a "neurotic" among medical students, quite the gallery: Dr. Preston Foster unscrewing his artificial arm to better contemplate a beating heart in a jar, Dr. John Wray with brain cells under the microscope and girlie magazines strewn around the lab, Dr. Arthur Edmond Carewe marveling at lunar rays through a metallic eyepatch. A tenebrous manor accommodates the suspects for a little son et lumiére (cf. Franju's Pleins feux sur l'assassin), the snappy snoop owes the doctor's daughter (Fay Wray) an explanation: "The more sensational it is, the more the sons of a guns like it!" Anton Grot sets and canted close-ups like Emil Nolde masks are but some of the marvels in this pre-Code shocker, the spectacle within the spectacle serves effigies of victims and grisly reenactments for the captive audience, complete with a climactic blackout. Machines measure terror and skeletons shimmy to jazzy tunes, the new flesh five decades before Cronenberg. (The make-up department deserves its own scene and gets it, hence the swollen Goya ogre.) Dreyer that same year has the maid's trembling recollection of her coffin nightmare (Vampyr). "Oh, pardon my poetic effort." With Harry Beresford, Leila Bennett, Robert Warwick, George Rosener, Tom Dugan, and Mae Busch.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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