I love pre-code movies — films made from 1929 to 1934, the years before the Motion Picture Production Code arrived to enforce mediocrity. It was kind of a wild-west time for movies. Nothing was too taboo. It was great.
Enter 1932’s Doctor X.
For the past several months when the moon is full, horrific murders have taken place. To make matters worse, the victim’s bodies have been cannibalized. The killer has been described by witnesses as as a monster. Reporter Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy) is trying to get a scoop on the story. Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill) is called into examine the latest victim but meanwhile, his university colleagues have been placed under suspicion. In order to avoid a scandal, Xavier convinces the police let him hold his own investigation.
With a deadline of 48 hours (that’s all the police will give the good doctor), Xavier assembles the suspects. Wells (Preston Foster), is an amputee who studies cannibalism. Then there’s Haines (John Wray), Duke (Harry Beresford) and Rowitz (Arthur Edmund Carewe). Haines and Rowitz were in a shipwreck and are suspected of eating their lifeboat’s other survivor, while Duke is a grouchy old man in a wheelchair. Xavier has invented a device that monitors the subjects heart rate to determine who is lying. Yup, a lie detector — except this one’s as big as room with a giant monitoring device.
Xavier begins the questioning by having his servants act out the murders and watches to see who gets excited. Meanwhile, Taylor has broken into the house to see if he can find out who the killer is, and runs into the good doctor’s daughter Joan (Fay Wray). The stage is set: someone in the house is the real killer.
Shot in two-strip technicolor, the film is moody, entertaining and creepy. The ending is excellent and horrifying. Here’s my original post.