Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bogart the vampire

TCM is honoring Humphrey Bogart as the Star of the Month for December by showing his movies in 24-hour blocks every Wednesday this month. Tomorrow has one of Bogart's more bizarre films, The Return of Doctor X, at 7:00 AM ET.

This movie was made before Bogart became a big star, so he doesn't show up for a bit. Instead, the movie starts with reporter Wayne Morris interviewing actress Lya Lys in her hotel, and returning later to find her dead! The only thing is, she's not actually dead, as she shows up later seemingly alive, albeit white as a sheet. Our intrepid reporter has some doctor friends, though, so he tells one of them (Dennis Morgan, another reasonably big star surprisingly stuck in a B-movie), who finally decides to join the investigation when a blood donor at his hospital dies. That investigation reveals that every patient with one obscure blood type is going missing. Why?

Well, as is the case in any good horror flick we've got two mad scientists (or a mad doctor and his assistant) on the loose. John Litel is the respectable one, and Bogart is his extremely Caucasian and clammy assistant. That whiteness isn't caused by ethnicity, though; it's a result of a lack of his own blood. Bogart had, in a past life, been a doctor who was executed for his role in a crime several years earlier. Litel's doctor character has been studying synthetic blood, and the possibility of revivifying lower animals -- and even people! However, the blood isn't perfect, as it doesn't give humans the normal skin tone, and it's not a permanent solution either. That would explain why so many people go missing: Bogart needs more and more of their blood!

I suppose I've been a bit misleading in the post title, in that Bogart isn't really playing a vampire here. That having been said, what he is playing in The Return of Doctor X is something quite strange and interesting. This is the sort of movie that had been made the entire decade, with there even being an original Doctor X, which is pretty much unrelated to this one. It's not much better or worse than those other horror flicks, although because it came out much later, there's not much original to it. Indeed, it's the presence of Bogart that makes this film so interesting. This character is so different from everything else he did, and a testament to the studio system -- one can't imagine Bogart picking a role like this of his own volition (and supposedly, he hated this movie). Still, even if it's not that great a movie, it's enjoyable and, at just a little over an hour, not that big a waste of time.

The Return of Doctor X has made its way to DVD, even in a box set with a bunch of other fun horror flicks from the 30s.

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