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31 Days of Halloween: The Return of Doctor X

Published Thursday, October 14, 2021 at 10:21pm

I didn't write a lot about it, but I really liked Doctor X. I thought I'd check out the sequel tonight, and I hated it. Haaated it. It's not worth your time. Mine, either, but I'm committed so here we go.

I'm sorry, hang on, I should point out that this isn't even a real sequel. It's a trashy movie trading on whatever goodwill the original Doctor X had built up six years previously, in 1932. Six years is a long time between sequels, and Doctor X wasn't a big success, so my best guess is that Warner Bros. was trying to squeeze a few more ticket sales out of a lousy story that they didn't expect to do very well. Why do studios buy screenplays for garbage movies?

Part of me thinks I should be less hard on The Return of Doctor X, but nobody else pulls any punches and everyone involved in the film is dead by now anyway.

News reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris)makes a date to interview an attractive, young actress, but when he arrives at her apartment she is dead—drained of blood! He leaves and comes back with the police only to find the body gone. He writes about the incident, and the next day the deceased is in his editor's office, very much alive and threatening to sue. He gets fired but when another corpse turns up in the same bloodless condition, he starts poking around and learns from his friend, Dr. Rhodes, that both individuals have rare "type 1" blood.

Garrett and Rhodes team up, and their researches eventually lead him to the eccentric blood specialist, Dr. Flegg, and his even creepier assistant, Dr. Quesne (pronounced Kane). Rhodes notices that Quesne bears a strong resemblance to Dr. Maurice Xavier, a mad scientist who was executed for killing children in the course of his experiments. They exhume Xavier's grave and find the coffin empty, and upon confrontation with the facts, Flegg admits that he has perfected a method of bringing the dead back to life, and that he brought Xavier back for his expertise in bloodwork. Quesne, however, needs the type 1 blood to survive and has effectively become a vampire.

In fact, that's what this is: a vampire movie, but not a very good one. Quesne's vampire is celibate, does his killing efficiently, and can't transform into anything. It's a good thing he's played by Humphrey Bogart, or nobody would ha— what's that? Yeah, Humphrey Bogart. Yeah, THAT Humphrey Bogart. In heavy makeup and with a skunk stripe through his hair.I know. I KNOW.

The Return of Doctor X was far from being Bogart's first film, but he was well-enough established in Hollywood that it's surprising he starred in this one. I've no idea how he felt about it at the time, but reportedly this was one of his least favorite movies. He gives a good performance in a bad movie. Funny, because the studio's first choice for Flegg and Quesne was Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, respectively. That would've been a bad movie, too, but I think it would have had a better reputation, if only for better casting. John Litel does an enjoyable job of leaving toothmarks all over the scenery, but Lugosi's Flegg would have been a very different character, to say the least.

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