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Doctor X (Blu-ray Review)

The Doctor X debut on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection kills two birds with one stone in many regards. One, it brings more 1930s non-Universal horror to Blu-ray in prestigious fashion. Two, it continues Warner Archive’s roll out of the filmography of the great Michael Curtiz. They’ve also added some fresh new bonus materials to this release a la The Curse of Frankenstein. Curtiz isn’t synonymous with horror, but he did put out three significant titles during the 1930s and now two of them are on Blu-ray from Warner Archive (The other is The Mystery of the Wax Museum, a fantastic release). You can also watch the film in its rarely seen color form and the black and white version, which technically are two completely different productions as they are different takes during the shoot. It’ll be available on April 20th. You can find a paid Amazon Associates pre-order link to use following the review if you’d like to help the site just a hair.

Film

Is there a (mad) doctor in the house? “Yes!” shrieks Doctor X, filmed in rare two-strip Technicolor®. An eminent scientist aims to solve a murder spree by re-creating the crimes in a lab filled with all the dials, gizmos, bubbling beakers and crackling electrostatic charges essential to the genre. Lionel Atwill is Doctor Xavier, pre-King Kong scream queen Fay Wray is a distressed damsel and Lee Tracy snaps newshound patter, all under the direction of renowned Michael Curtiz.

Doctor X provides a wicked blend of mystery and horror and would pair extremely well in a double feature with Michael Curtiz’s The Mystery of the Wax Museum. The film introduces a lot of novel concepts not present in horror at the time, which makes it more of a work to appreciate knowing the context of when the film arrives. It features the notion of cannibalism as well as giving us some of our first dose of body horror. Overall, its one that should be studied and revisited with the passion and comfort as those of the 1930s Universal Classic Monsters.

Curtiz only has a trifecta of horror, but he sure excels at it. His film features some terrific lighting and use of sets. There’s some early atomic age ideas that he seems to be touching on at points. There is also an interesting usage of green that is apparently. Green was a color strongly tied with horror at the time and in the early color days, used to indicate such with lighting and filters. Now, I’d say red is mostly associated, but the green gives Doctor X a really interesting and unique flair.

Michael Curtiz Doctor X should be more a staple in horror history. Its, of course, well directed. But, it also features some terrific monster work in terms of make-up and gore. We also have some royalty in the film as Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray grace the screen. Both are marvelous in their roles, to boot. Film buffs, horror aficionados and Blu-ray collectors should really add Doctor X to their collection. Aside from the tremendous work on the disc, the film is quite a treat on its own.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Doctor X debuts on Blu-ray with a brand new 4K restoration from the last-known surviving nitrate technicolor print. And the amount of work they have gone to give this film new life is pretty astounding. Check out the featurette on restoring it for all the nifty details and examples. It has a really artistic, painting quality to it in a way. Details are strong as can be given the age and type of film process we have here. Also available as a bonus feature is a black and white version which also features an impressive restoration and presentation with good details and crisp image.

Depth:  The film has some really nice depth of field in the color version, with great pushback showcasing in the more elaborate big scale lab and hallway shots. There’s a nice front of camera focus to back of room in the black and white version that looks pretty as well. Movements are cinematic and natural and no motion distortions occur.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and pretty close to natural as can be for the standard Blu-ray format. Details hold up pretty decently. There was one moment where a shot featuring some crush toward the bottom of the screen on some of the men’s coats. With how illustrious and rigorous the restoration process was and such, it may have been something unavoidable, so I’m willing to look over this tiny blemish.

Color Reproduction:  Color has the two-color Technicolor process from the early 1930s. It comes across somewhat primary, but also carries a bit of beauty to it as well. Green is strongly used in the lighting scheme and is a stronger featured player that displays some good pop to it in the image.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones carry a very peach color to them and maintain an impressive consistency from start to finish. Details hold better in the close up shots. The black and white version might be a little more cleanly in the texture.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Doctor X features a beautifully restored mono track that perfectly completes the video experience. They’ve really cleaned this up to where the audio has only the faintest of a hiss. Vocals take center stage, but this is really loose and balanced and features some good, impactful moments with the score and effects.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

Doctor X: Black and White Version (HD, 1:17:03) – Not merely just the film void of color, a completely different one at that. This version was shot separate of the color version. It is comprised of different takes and angles. Literally a 100% different film.

Audio Commentary

  • by Alan K. Rode
  • by Scott MacQueen

Madness & Mystery: The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz (HD, 27:39) – Alan K. Rode and Scott MacQueen talk about how there are many great non-Universal Monsters horror films of the 1930s. While Curtiz is not known as a horror director, he did direct 3 films (The Mystery of the Wax Museum, Doctor X, The Walking Dead) in the 1930s and these two men argue that he deserves his due as a notable great horror film director of that era. They also give plenty of good stories and asides about his horror output as well including his relationship with people like Boris Karloff.

Doctor X: Before and After Restoration Reel (HD, 7:40) – Scott MacQueen, director of restoration at the UCLA Film & TV Archive, lays vocals over the original footage and guides through the restoration processes showcasing comparsions to what they started with and what they finished with for this disc.

Theatrical Trailer: Black and White Version (HD, 2:15) 

Summary

Doctor X is part murder mystery, part chilling horror, part mad scientist and part gore galore (for the 1930s). Its a real treat from Michael Curtiz. Warner Archive Collection has put forth a TREMENDOUS restoration effort here and you really need to see what they’ve done with this disc. There are some nice featurettes and commentaries to accompany the film as well. Considering the age of the film, what they’ve managed to put together for this release is about as complete a release are we’ll ever see.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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