01 August 2014

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)
61 min.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
With Una Merkel, Lionel Atwill, Nat Pendleton, Claire Dodd, Anne Nagel, Hardie Albright, Richard Davies, John Eldredge.
Dr. Ralph Benson (Atwill) is a professor specializing in suspended animation.

He's also a complete nutbag!

So far, he's been successful at resuscitating small animals back from the dead. But when he attempts an experimental test on a human, the poor man dies, and Benson is forced to flee his San Francisco lab.

Assuming a new identity, he takes flight on an ocean liner bound for New Zealand. But then the ship sinks at sea, and Benson - along with a handful of passengers - find themselves stranded on a remote island.

When he reanimates one of the island natives, the primitive savages declare Benson a god!

Now, insane and drunk with power, he formulates some diabolical plans for his fellow survivors. Will he let them live, or will they become pawns in his mad research?

Certainly, Atwill is one of the underrated players of 1930s and 1940s horror.

His supporting work alongside Karloff and Lugosi, in such fare as Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Night Monster (1942), is solid enough.

But it's his lead roles in Doctor X (1932) and Murders at the Zoo (1933) - not to mention this minor 1942 effort - that showcase his talent at playing the genre's psycho role, often with relish and delight.

On the downside though, the suspense in Mad Doctor is low burn at best, Merkel overacts to the hilt, and spunky Dodd seems woefully underused as a result.

Still, there's a nifty paycheck for the viewer in the form of a cool, retribution-style climax. (Or should we say "hot, retribution-style climax"?)

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