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!

Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Part Two (2021)

The second part of highlights from this year’s TCM (virtual) Film Festival, this time focusing on ‘Classics Curated By TCM’ available to stream via HBO MAX.

It’s worth noting that I have no idea how long these will be available to stream. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll be available until May 11th.

Full ‘Classics Curated By TCM’ HBO MAX lineup:

BALL OF FIRE (1941): A lesser known Howard Hawks screwball classic, featuring Gary Cooper as a stodgy professor and Barbara Stanwyck as a nightclub singer in trouble with both the police and the mob. It’s classic TCM fare in that it airs rather regularly and I find it endless re-watchable. (If you don’t have HBO MAX, it’s also available via kanopy.)

THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981): Directed by Penelope Spheeris (BLACK SHEEP, WAYNE’S WORLD) not only is THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION a great music doc about the Los Angeles punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s — including Black Flag, X, and Fear — but also a brilliant doc in general, one which resulted in two more iterations that are also worth your time.

HARLAN COUNTY USA (1976): Director Barbara Kopple’s in-depth look at striking Kentucky coal minors. It’s a classic, an important piece of American history. (I’ll note that it does run regularly on TCM and Criterion’s streaming service.)

THE MELIES MYSTERY (2020): A doc detailing the restoration of over half of silent film auteur Georges Méliès. I haven’t seen it, but can’t help but imagine any self-respecting film nerd wouldn’t want to watch it.

THE NAKED CITY (1948): Previously recommended! (Also, it’s easily available on any non-TCM fest day.)

SCARECROW (1973): This Jerry Schatzberg film is completely new to me — I’ve only see THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK — but it features Gene Hackman and Al Pacino as two misfits trekking across the U.S., so I doubt it’ll completely waste my time.

SO THIS IS PARIS (1926): Lubitch directed more than several handfuls of silent films before helming talkies such as NINOTCHKA and DESIGN FOR LIVING. While I’ve never seen it — I’m largely unfamiliar with Lubitch’s silent work — it’s a new restoration, heavily features folks dancing the Charleston, and Myrna Loy makes an appearance.

THE THIN MAN (1934): Previously recommended! (That said, if you’re pressed for time, it’s easy enough to watch any old day.)

TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (1990): Charles Burnett (whose first film is the the fantastic KILLER OF SHEEP) weaves this tale of an old acquaintance (Danny Glover) who pops back up in a family’s life and slyly disrupts them. It’s a remarkably surreal but grounded film, chock full of great little scenes, performances, and intriguing tracking work.

I hope some of you can catch these while you can, and that the next TCM Fest has both virtual and physical screenings!

Turner Classic Movies Film Fest: Part One (2021)

Turner Classic Movies’ annual film festival is virtual for the second year in a row. While last year it took place entirely on TCM’s cable channel, this year they’re also leveraging HBO MAX for ‘Classics Curated By TCM’. Unlike prior years, there’s no real theme, which is disappointing, and I think leads to a rather lackluster lineup, but your mileage may vary.

I thought I’d point out a few noteworthy pieces for TCM’s timed ‘screenings’ today, and HBO MAX’s offerings tomorrow:

‘Screening’ via TCM Full Schedule:

May 7th 1:30am EST: DOCTOR X (1932)

If I were smarter, I would have posted this earlier this week because this probably will have already aired by the time you read it, but it’s worth mentioning. The UCLA Film & TV Archive and The Film Foundation recently restored this two-color Technicolor marvel — similar to how they restored the previously recommended THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933). Michael Curtiz also directed it (as he did WAX MUSEUM) and Fay Wray also appears in it, so you know it’ll be some top-notch classic horror.


Comedic genius and horror film fan Dana Gould wrangled an all-star list of comedians including Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait, Oscar Nuñez, Bob Odenkirk, Janet Varney, Paul F. Tompkins, and more to perform his adaptation of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Fun fact: Gould was good friends with Vampira (who barely but memorably appears in Woods original film) near the end of her life, and helped out of more than a few bad times.

May 8th 3:15am EST: let me come in (2021)

Bill Morrison (DAWSON CITY: FROZEN CITY) shaped this from the remains of the German silent film PAWNS OF PASSION (1928). While I haven’t seen this, I’m fascinated with it simply from a film history perspective and the fact that it’s managed by Morrison intrigues me even more.

May 8th 8am EST: I LOVE TROUBLE (1948)

I haven’t run the numbers, but it feels like there are fewer noirs in this fest than prior years, but this is one I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.

May 8th 11:45am EST: NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKE TWO (2021)

A new doc regarding the extremely influential comedic team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. I’ve seen prior docs on ‘em, and yet I’m still making time for another.

May 8th 10pm EST: LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972)

I’ve only read about this film in contrast to the recent Billie Holiday docudrama, and I know it takes wild liberties with her life, but are you going to pass up the chance to see Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, -and- Richard Pryor in the same film? (Yes, I know Ross and Williams were in MAHOGNY together.)

May 9th 4:15am EST: I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945)

Exactly the sort of fest film I’d attend without knowing anything but the basics. It’s a romance and it’s written and directed by legendary English filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Tomorrow: some HBO MAX TCM Fest recommendations.