DOCTOR X manages to keep this unseemly promise without seeming deficit or compromised in either category.
Directed by Michael Curtiz, designed by Anton Grot (previously SVENGALI, subsequently MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and THE GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933), and starring a wonderful cast twin-barreled by the delectable Fay Wray and dapper Lionel Atwill (in spats, no less), DOCTOR X is a stylish gem of 1930s horror. It also manages to shuffle some of the best possible cards from the wise-crackin' newspaper drama, the spooky murder mystery and romantic comedy, while boasting some superlatively futuristic sets as well.
The story concerns a series of "Full Moon Murders" all connected by an element of what Atwill's Dr. Xavier calls "Cannibal-ism," committed by what he furthermore calls a "scal-pell" but followed by a literal bite taken out of crime. As police (and "Daily World" reporter Lee Tracy) investigate, they follow the unique brand of scalpel used in these violent deaths to Xavier's research clinic, whose staff of very queer-looking research scientists (Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford, Arthur Edmund Carewe) amazingly have not only one but various connections to the subject or the act of cannibalism! In a plot twist that seems equally derived from Gaston Leroux's locked room mysteries and the "game test" set-up of A. Merritt's SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, Xavier puts a huge art deco laboratory to use as a prototypical lie detector, strapping in the suspects and tempting the real killer out into the open by restaging his most vicious killings on a makeshift stage.
The film's highlight, truly among the eeriest sequences in 1930s horror, finds one of the suspects applying to his face and scalp heaping gobs of "Synthetic Flesh" -- a word repeated with horrifying relish as the red and green scenics bubble and smoke and shimmer in diabolically amusing ways. Max Factor is credited with the monster makeup, a milestone in the evolution of special makeup effects. As Xavier's loopy domestics, Leila Bennett and George Rosener fill out the cast, which appropriately delicious.
Viewed as part of Warner Home Video's HOLLWOOD'S LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION box set.