Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Dr. Cyclops (1940)

I saw this 1940 film on TV when I was a kid and thought it was the greatest movie I’d ever seen. I hadn’t watched it since then, however, and when Svengoolie showed it a few weeks ago, I decided to record it and give it a try. I’m glad I did, because while it turns out not to be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty darned entertaining.

The doctor of the title is actually named Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker), who’s experimenting with the effects of radiation on organic matter in his South American laboratory. Since his sight is failing, he summons several other scientists to assist him, but they quickly figure out that he’s a mad scientist who has discovered a way to shrink living beings. Rather than have his nefarious plans exposed, he traps the three scientists, their guide, and a native servant in the room with his radium condenser and shrinks them down to miniature size. From that point, the rest of the movie centers around their efforts to escape from and/or kill Thorkel, all while surviving the dangers of being five inches tall in a full-sized world.

The plot maybe could have used another twist or two, but the movie’s strengths more than make up for that. With his bald head, thick glasses, and hulking frame, Dekker is great as the crazed scientist. He underplays for the most part, rather than chewing the scenery as you might expect from such a part, but that quiet menace makes him one of the most chilling movie characters I’ve come across in a while. The other characters are sort of non-entities, dwarfed (no pun intended . . . oh, what the heck, yeah, it was) by Dekker’s performance. The production values of this film are top-notch, with some of the best Technicolor photography from this era that you’ll find. The movie looks great. (That’s something I didn’t notice when watching it on a 19-inch black-and-white TV all those years ago.) The special effects, which consist mostly of building enormous sets that perfectly match the regular sets, are really good, too.

Unfortunately, some of the books, movies, etc., that I loved as a kid don’t hold up all that well. DR. CYCLOPS definitely does hold up, and if you haven’t seen it, I think it’s well worth watching. If, like me, you haven’t seen it in many years, you might want to think about watching it again.

(Side note: There’s actually a novelization of this movie, something that wasn’t all that common during that era. It was published under the name Will Garth, which was a house-name in the pulps published by Standard/Best Publications, aka the Thrilling Group. I believe the novel was actually written by Joseph Samachson, an editor there, but I could be wrong about that.)


Brett said...

Agreed, fun movie.

Walter Guyll said...

I read that novelization years ago, apparently written by Henry Kuttner, well before ever seeing the movie, bundled in a paperback with a Captain Future novelette and a Bryce Walton short story.

Edwin McBride said...

Terrific movie. I'm glad that Svengoolie is on earlier now. I missed the end of more than a few movies due to dozing off.

Spike said...

I enjoyed this movie many times. First time on a tiny black and white set in my boyhood bedroom and most recently on DVD. Lots of fun and Dekker is great. I also read the book but had though Will Garth was Murray Leinster. Didn't he write some Westerns under that name?