Director: Vincent Sherman. Writers: Lee Katz and William J. Makin. Cinematography: Sidney Hickox. Editing: Thomas Pratt. Music: Bernhard Kaun. Producers: Bryan Foy, Hal B. Wallis, and Jack L. Warner. Release: Warner Bros. on December 2, 1939. Running time: 62 minutes.
With Wayne Morris (Walter Garrett), Rosemary Lane (Joan Vance), Humphrey Bogart (Marshall Quesne/Dr. Maurice Xavier), Dennis Morgan (Dr. Mike Rhodes), John Litel (Dr. Francis Flegg), Lya Lys (Angela Merrova), Huntz Hall (Pinky), Charles Wilson (Detective Ray Kincaid), and Vera Lewis (Miss Sweetman).
The Return of Doctor X is a follow up to 1932’s Doctor X however it’s really not a sequel. While Doctor X still refers to Dr. Xavier and its implied that his character in this film has a prosthetic hand, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. In fact, this film has all new actors.
The Return of Doctor X starts out as your typical murder/mystery du jour as reporter Walter Garrett finds the actress Angela Merrova dead in her apartment and publishes the account in his newspaper. When she shows up alive at his office the next day with a lawyer and lawsuit in hand, Garrett’s boss fires him on the spot. Unwilling to accept this revelation, Garrett enlists a friendly doctor and the two find that there’s something odd going on with Merrova and another doctor named Dr. Francis Flegg who is an expert of rare blood types.
While The Return of Doctor X is listed as a horror film, I wouldn’t exactly call it that as I didn’t find anything particularly scary about this film, even for the age in which it was made. While Humphrey Bogart looks creepy—down to a streak of white hair and pale skin—everyone else acts as if they are in a typical whodunit because really, this is your typical whodunit (without all the humor and charm of The Thin Man) with a splash of scientific speculation thrown it to keep it in line with the original film.
Speaking of Humphrey Bogart, he played Marshall Quesne a.k.a Dr. Maurice Xavier in a role that was originally meant to go to Boris Karloff. It was the only science fiction/horror film Bogart ever made and he absolutely hated everything about it. “This is one of the pictures that made me march in to [Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner] and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner’s blood or Harry’s or Sam’s maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”
As for the rest of the cast, no word on if they hated it as much as Bogey, they are all satisfactory in their roles. I would have liked to see more of Lya Lys as Angela Merrova, but anymore of her might of ruined the mystery surrounding her. For a 1930’s reporter, Wayne Morris as Walter Garrett wasn’t too over the top which I appreciated greatly. The reporter character in films of this era can be flat-out annoying to the point I want to stop watching the film.
While the overall plot is mostly predictable, I was interested in seeing how they would handle the blood type storyline. The conclusion was tired and uninspiring, even for a 1938 film. At 62 minutes long, I’m not going to complain too much about it. This is that the Saturday Matinee films were made for. However, Humphrey Bogart deserved more than Saturday Matinee status even at this point in his career. Bogey fans will definitely want to see this film just to say they have seen it though. I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5.