DOCTOR X (1932)

DOCTOR X, directed by endlessly exhausted motherfucking Michael Curtiz — oh, did you know he also directed a little film named CASABLANCA? Also, well over a hundred other films? — is mostly notable for its technical details as opposed to its plot, which is wildly chaotic.

If you are older than 12, you’re probably familiar with the traditional Technicolor film look; it’s all vividly colorful and eye-popping and glorious. THE WIZARD OF OZ would be nothing without Technicolor.

That’s not how Technicolor started out. While it was one of the first non-hand tinted color film processes — in the early days of film, folks actually hand-colored individual frames, or entire reels were dunked in dye — it started as a two-color rendition, which was rather garish, mostly a glowing green and a ruddy red-brown.

While those hues were novel, they didn’t quite suit most dramas or comedies being produced by Warner Bros. who had signed an exclusive agreement with Technicolor. Then they realized: “Hey those Universal horror films seem to be doing well, and they’re just black-and-white. Let’s give that a go!”

As a result, the world received DOCTOR X and THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (which was later adapted as HOUSE OF WAX). They didn’t set the world on fire like Universal horror films, but folks did take note of them.

For a long time, the only way to watch either of them were via shit transfers of deteriorated prints. The vibrancy of the Technicolor process? Nowhere to be seen. Two-color Technicolor? More like one-color Technicolor. When I said they were shit transfers? They were shit-colored, all brown and muddy and not at all appealing.

UCLA, as they often do (along with significant backing) took considerable measures to restore both films to their prior glory. The two colors glow in a singular way that you simply don’t see in films. It’s a very specific look. However, if a film isn’t shot with that in mind, if it’s shot thinking ‘oh, this is full color’ then, well, it’ll look ill-designed and flawed.

That isn’t the case with DOCTOR X. This film was shot by Ray Rennahan, an early master of the Technicolor process. His deft handling of lighting and hues is what makes DOCTOR X exceptional. Plot-wise, DOCTOR X is definitely bizarre and intriguing while at the same time being more than a bit staid and boring. While it’s essentially the tale of a Jekyll-and-Hyde serial killer mystery sussed out by cops and scientists, the means of how they do so are rather twisted and involve a lot of handcuffs and chairs and re-enactments for what I can only deduce as dramatic intent. However, it’s also injected with a lot of pratfalls, poorly conceived attempts at humor, stuttering pacing, and a terrible romantic subplot that even scream queen Fay Wray can’t make work.

While the use of color is the star here, the sets bolster the film. They’re all angular, stark and all over-powering in a German expressionist way. They’re mesmerizing and striking and compelling and draw you into a scene in ways the script fail to do so.

In other words: this is a film where the production values justify its existence, and this restoration does the film justice and returns it to its former glory.


I’ll note that, even when Technicolor finally mastered full-color, it was mostly via extremely complex and very heavy cameras that shot scenes on three reels — one red, one green, one blue — and it was optically combined in post. Think about that when you see push-ins in films of the late 30s and 40s.

Yeah, and you think CGI FX artists have it rough.

Lastly: I had this film slated for Horrorclature 2023 before I noticed that my local favorite art house theater — the Music Box — would be screening a 35mm print and, of course, I attended. A lot of the finer production details noted above are because of the introduction the programmers at the Chicago Film Society provided. They always do great work and, if you’re in the midwest? They program films not just in Chicago, but all around!


I avoided METROPOLITAN for quite some time. I watched writer/director Whit Stillman’s follow-up THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO shortly after it was released on DVD and thought: his candor and approach is simply not for me.

I eventually got around to METROPOLITAN more than a handful of years later — before he completed LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s posthumous novel PERSUASION — and did appreciate it but didn’t fall in love with it the way others had. I could feel the Woody Allen influence and had a hard time reckoning with that. (I admit, ANNIE HALL still impresses and MANHATTAN looks gorgeous.)

However, the other night I fell asleep watching Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which happens more often than I’d like to admit, and woke up about twenty minutes into METROPOLITAN and it suddenly snapped into focus for me: yes, the Allen influence is there, as it is a film composed of vignettes about upper-class wanna-be Manhattan intellectuals who spend most of their time talking instead of taking action, but the real influence is Jane Austen and I just never realized it, despite the fact that Austen is referenced more than a few times in the film, especially PERSUASION.

An aside: I came along to Austen late in life, after I had first watched METROPOLITAN. While I wish it had been sooner, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed her novels as much as I did when I first read them as someone older. I haven’t read everything by her; I have a copy of LADY SUSAN and PERSUASION in my daunting to-read stack. I was at a wedding last year and lit up when someone at our table started talking about Austen and — to the visible frustration of her date — peppered her with Austen questions, including whether I should read PERSUASION first or watch LOVE & FRIENDSHIP. (She essentially responded: “They’re both great! There’s no wrong way to enjoy them!”)

METROPOLITAN is comprised of a number of chapters in rich socialites lives, mostly viewed from the point-of-view of lower-middle class nerd Tom Townsend (Edward Clements). Well-to-do Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman, who you may recognize from GILMORE GIRLS) takes a shining to him and guides him into his inner social circle, teaching him how to present as one of them. One of the women in the group, Audrey (Carolyn Farina), develops a crush on him but is too meek to do anything about it and watches as Tom pines for Serena (Ellia Thompson) while Serena is involved with an overly-confident, pony-tailed man named Rick (Will Kempe).

In other words: it’s all about repressed emotions and manners and presentation and social navigation, which Austen is very well-known for.

The primary allure here is the dialogue and interplay of characters, and the performers step up perfectly. There’s a rapport and tension between all of them that feels absolutely engaging. I’ll note that it’s shame that, apart from Eigeman, few of them have appeared in many other works.

For Stillman’s first film, he has a remarkable command over pacing and editing. While scenes often end abruptly via a fade-out, it manages to feel naturalistic. Additionally, the blocking is exceptionally handled, as well as John Thomas’s framing. Everyone is exquisitely laid out in ways that speak magnitudes of their character and conflicts, and Mary Jane Fort’s costume design fits perfectly for this world. (I’ll note that it was her first endeavor, but unlike most of the actors, she’s had a long career fashioning for film and TV.)

I will admit that the score is often overly-repetitive, but suits the film.

This is one of the fantastic facets for me as to having TCM constantly running in the background: it’s consistently about revisiting films, sometimes as comfort, but also often for re-evaluation, and I’m glad I did so for METROPOLITAN when it’s doubtful I would have otherwise.

“They’re doomed; they’re bourgeois; and in love. They’re all so … Metropolitan.”


“While passing through a vacation resort, a newlywed couple encounters a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide.”

A stylish, surreal cult queer vampire film, featuring the brilliant Delphine Seyrig. Very giallo, prioritizing sensation over plot, like most quality vampire films.

Halloween 2021 Programming: CLASSIC

As previously noted, my wife and I have a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: Contemporary, Classic, and Cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year. Today features classic horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her.

This time I will apologize not for leaning on prior works, but for posting about films I have yet to watch, but they all have stellar reputations, and at least one of them will be viewed tonight!

DOCTOR X (1932, Criterion/VOD)

While I purchased a copy of the newly restored DOCTOR X — it was one of the rare early horror films shot on a very distinct, very early two-color Technicolor process (see also: THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)) I have yet to watch it. It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, during his infamous horror run at Warner Bros, and stars Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.


SISTERS (1973, Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD)

Also previously suggested. Classic Brian De Palma film about two sisters, two sides of the same coin.

DIABOLIQUE (1955, Criterion/HBO MAX/Plex/Roku)

Also previously suggested. “More of a thriller than a horror film, but it’s a seminal piece of film history for both. I haven’t seen it in over twenty years, and I’m eager to revisit it.”

THE VANISHING (1988, Criterion/VOD)

This has been on my watchlist for years. I think I had a copy on the DVR via TCM, but it may have been auto-deleted due to space.


It’s campy, but very intelligent and darkly comic. Also, Vincent Price AND Joseph Cotten! (There’s a sequel I’ve been meaning to watch, but haven’t gotten around to.)


THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927, epix/kanopy/Paramount+/VOD

I haven’t seen this yet but, similar to THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) — which we watched a few years ago — it’s an ensemble film along the lines of Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (although this film predates both works). It’s directed by Paul Leni, who directed THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, notable for Conrad Veidt’s (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) performance that was blatantly ripped off for the look of the Joker.



(Criterion/Kanopy/VOD/Vudu/YouTube)? Robert Downey, Sr. passed away this week at the age of 85. While his son is mostly known for more accessible fare, Downey Sr. was an anarchic indie filmmaker, and there’s no better example of his cinematic skills than PUTNEY SWOPE.

PUTNEY SWOPE is a nihilistic indictment of Madison Avenue, American capitalism and everything it’s created (including filmmaking and anti-American capitalist revolutionaries), while also being damn funny and inventively shot. The faux-commercials it features are perhaps only rivaled by ROBOCOP (1987) or the best of Adult Swim. For instance:

I need to note that this is an incredibly insensitive film in ways I haven’t quite managed to personally reconcile — after all, it’s a film written and directed by a middle-aged white man about a Black man breaking the system — but it is also endlessly fascinating.


(Criterion/VOD) 444 days. That’s how long it had been since I’d been in a theater. I’m finally fully vaccinated, so yesterday I rode the bus for the first time in almost as long to visit the Music Box Theatre to see the only film I could catch there: Haifaa Al-Mansour’s THE PEFECT CANDIDATE. Thanks to the Chicago Transportation Authority, I arrived late. The lobby was empty, apart from one employee who glanced at the ticket on my phone and instructed me to leave on my mask at all times during the film.

I walked into the theater which, under normal conditions, can house over a thousand people. I stumbled through the darkness, trying to seek out my favorite seat, only to find it roped off to enforce proper social distancing. I found the closest seat with some leg space and settled in, trying to catch up with the film.

A few minutes later my eyes had adjusted, and I realized I was the sole person there.

Granted, this was a mid-afternoon screening of a two-year-old feminist Saudi Arabian film (just now receiving a U.S. release), but still. This was the first time I’d ever been the lone viewer for a Music Box screening, much less for a film playing in the main theater. It’s a miracle they’re still operating, but I’m glad they are.

If you aren’t familiar with Haifaa Al-Mansour, she’s often cited as ‘Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker’. WADJDA (2012) was her breakthrough film, but she’s also helmed American films such as MARY SHELLEY (2017) and NAPPILY EVER AFTER (2018). THE PERFECT CANDIDATE is the first film of hers I’ve seen, and I’m quite excited to dive into her back-catalog.

THE PERFECT CANDIDATE is about a woman doctor in a small Saudi Arabian town, Maryam, who lives with her father — a recent widow and musician — and her two sisters, and she aspires for more. The street leading to the hospital she works at isn’t paved and is a consistent mess — people are constantly being wheeled through mud — and incoming patients often outright refuse her, even if they require emergency care, solely because she’s a woman.

Due to a confluence of religious, bureaucratic, and patriarchal issues, she’s unable to attend a medical conference in Dubai, which she’d hoped would serve as a way to work her way into a better position, and due to similar religious, bureaucratic, and patriarchal issues, she ends up inadvertently applying to run for election to govern the town.

What follows is a relatively straight-forward, definitely disheartening, activist film that completely hammers home the gender inequality in Saudi Arabia while still being a thoughtful portrait of a family trying to repair themselves after the sudden death of their mother. Al-Mansour inserts a number of deft character touches, such as Maryam’s brand-new car, which she retains the plastic on the seats, but the car’s wheel wells are covered in mud because of the shoddy road. The sister dynamics are especially nuanced, with the younger sister outright rejecting her older sister’s attempts to make a difference, and the older sister being a savvy, confident, semi-supportive entrepreneur working within ‘the system’.

Was this film the one I imagined would be my inaugural post-vaccinated filmgoing experience? No, but I’m glad it was. It represents everything I’ve missed about cinema in the pandemic: the ability to walk blindly into a tale of another space and then leave the theater feeling altered.


(Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD) In A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, Peter Falk is Nick Longhetti, a construction foreman married to Mabel (Gena Rowlands, who was married to Cassavettes until he died in 1989) and they have three young children as well as a litany of family and friends that constantly drop by, barely giving Nick or Mabel a moment of peace. While this would be difficult for any couple, it’s complicated by the fact that Rowlands is incredibly intense woman, and often interacts with people in socially unacceptable ways. Nick describes her as “unusual, not crazy”.

What unfolds is a story of the two of them trying to cope with Mabel’s behavior, Nick’s detachment and frustration, and eventually Mabel’s breakdown. It’s a stunning depiction of a couple, one enriched by Rowlands’ absolutely astounding performance. She completely inhabits the role, bringing to life a character unlike one I’ve ever seen. It’s a nervy, nuanced take on a character that could otherwise come across as cartoonish. Rowlands was nominated for a Best Actress award for her role, but lost to Ellen Burstyn for the also-exceptional ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. (I do prefer Rowlands’ performance, but they’re both great.)

It’s worth noting that Cassavettes never meant for Mabel to be considered ‘crazy’ — his words, not mine — but that she’s “frustrated beyond belief. More than being crazy, I think she’s just socially inept.” He also pulled from his own personal experience and his relationships, which seems obvious given how close everyone involved in this project are. To callback to my write-up regarding PLEASE STAND BY, this is the difference between writing a puzzle box story about someone with a neurological disorder, and writing an intimate tale about coping with people’s very human and divergent idiosyncrasies.

Just one more thing: COLUMBO fans will almost certainly be surprised to hear Falk whistling ‘This Old Man’, which was a tune that Falk turned into a Columbo affectation with the iconic episode -Any Old Port in a Storm-, which pre-dates A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Falk just always liked to hum or whistle it.

“You want spaghetti?!”


(Criterion/VOD) A very specific romantic drama from Michael Powel & Emeric Pressburger, where a willful woman — Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) — has mapped out from her childhood the exact life she wants: to look lovely, to have fine things, and to have a husband with a title who can provide her with all she wants.

She has a life-plan which she’s followed through on and, frankly, most of us in these current days would envy.

She’s one step away from realizing it: she just needs one boat to see her to her title-bearing beau, and she’ll have seen her plan through. However, she meets Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a RAF sailor/landowner of a tiny Scottish island meant to shuttle her to her final destination, storms prevent her departure, and her plans start to unravel.

In less-capable hands I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! could have been a treacly melodrama, but master filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCISSUS) deliver up an extraordinarily winsome and surprisingly thrilling romance that also acts as a love letter to rural Scotland, not unlike OUTLANDER but with significantly fewer rape scenes. It’s worth noting that, while much of it was shot on location at the Isle of Mull, a significant portion of the film was shot in a British studio due to Livesey’s work schedule, and the fact that the seams don’t show is a testament to cinematographer Erwin Hillier’s skills.

What’s especially intriguing about the film is that there’s none of the push-and-pull and internal questioning that you have with most modern romantic dramas. From the moment Joan meets Torquil, she immediately realizes she’s in trouble, that this man could upend all of her hard work. Granted, it’s never stated outright, but Powell & Pressburger do a fantastic job of conveying it visually.

Unfortunately I was unable to locate a trailer, so this memorable scene will have to suffice:


(Criterion/HBO MAX/YouTube/VOD)? Hitchcock is arguably the progenitor of modern genre film, which I suppose is why no one thinks of him as a silent filmmaker, but he directed handfuls of silent films before his first sound film, BLACKMAIL, and THE LODGER is one of his most remarkable early achievements.

While THE LODGER lacks the sophisticated visual scene construction Hitchcock would become known for, it does feature a number of his other signature attributes: an infatuation with blondes, startling visual motifs (his focus on the lodger’s right hand, for instance) and sexual tension buoyed by a sense of danger. It also plays with color tinting, has an astounding use of graphic design, and the interstitials are uniquely gorgeous with their use of fonts and background visual elements.

As a mystery, THE LODGER is a bit lackluster, but Hitchcock’s command of cinematic language far makes up for it, and showcases how ahead of his time he was.

As usual, I’ve included a trailer below, but please don’t let it fool you: the restored BFI print that Criterion and HBO MAX have is thrillingly vibrant. There’s also a link to a YouTube copy of the film below and, while it’s more pristine than the trailer, it lacks the tinting of the restored print.


Full film:


(Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD) I previously recommended Gillian Armstrong’s OSCAR AND LUCINDA but, apart from her 1994 adaptation of LITTLE WOMEN, she’s perhaps best known for her first feature film MY BRILLIANT CAREER, an adaptation of Miles Franklin debut novel of the same name.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER stars Judy Davis (she’s been in everything from BARTON FINK to NAKED LUNCH to FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN) as Sybylla Melvyn, a rather immature, somewhat naive, headstrong young woman in late 19th century Australia who wants to create, to impress herself on the world, and certainly doesn’t settle for simply getting married and settling down, even when she finds herself enamored with Harry Beecham (Sam Neill in one of his earliest film appearances).

MY BRILLIANT CAREER was released midway through the Australian New Wave film movement and, while it’s Armstrong’s first feature, it’s a remarkably well-executed film — she clearly knew what she wanted to do with it — and Donald McAlpine’s involvement as cinematographer lends a rustic, but striking atmosphere to the film, ably switching from pristine upper-class interiors to dust-enveloped farms.

Yes, Sybylla can be a bit much and maddening at times, but her journey is a worthwhile and rewarding one, without being treacly.