Return of Dr. X, 1939. 5/10

Humphrey Bogart in a horror movie? Well, to be strictly correct, Return of Dr. X is more of a murder mystery, with some chilling undertones. We’re not just talking about murders, but some of the dead people don’t stay dead…including a certain doctor. In any case we’ve got a trio of doctors, Bogart as Quense (plus an alias), Flegg (John Litel), and Rhodes (Dennis Morgan). Then there’s an annoying journalist Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) who teams up with Rhodes to figure out who’s done what to whom.

One of the victims, Angela Merrova (Lya Lys), actually isn’t content with dying just once. With the police summoned, Detective Kincaid (Charles C. Wilson) thinks that Garrett is a meddler, or delusional, and just wants to get the ‘straight dope’ on the mayhem. Once patient Stanley Rogers (John Ridgely) turns up dead, Rhodes and Garrett shift into high gear; Flegg is up to something with a cohort, the very uncomfortable, very cadaverous, ex-Dr.X, Dr. Quense.

Garrett finds some pretty convincing evidence that Quense is the child-killer Dr. Xavier, who was convicted, and executed two years before. Confronting Flegg, we hear that, indeed, Flegg brought Xavier back to life, via synthetic blood transfusions. Flegg demonstrates his process by bringing a dead rabbit back from the dead. The problem is that the synthetic blood has a short shelf-life. Ultimately, only human blood will keep the dead living.

So, Quense was killing to sustain himself; only quick action by Flegg saved Merrova the first time. Looking like the Phantom of the Opera, he ambushes Flegg, and kidnaps Joan. Quense, of course, figures to use her for a transfusion. The good guys are close behind and wipe out Xavier/Quense and save Joan.

The Return of Dr. X has a good premise and Quense/Xavier’s and Flegg’s characters have several strong scenes. But most of the good stuff is squandered by the almost complete goofiness of Garrett’s character. It would be different if he were amusing, but he’s just corrosively dull. The other problem is that, after Merrova shows up alive, there’s no surprises or suspense.

Once we meet Flegg, it’s obvious that he’s a bad guy. Things only get somewhat interesting when Quense appears, but he should be introduced much earlier. Kincaid has some good lines, livening things up a bit here and there. But even he is more or less upstaged by the unofficial detectives, Garrett and Rhodes; they get some of what they want from Merrova, and every possible detail from Flegg. There’s no tension in these crucial scenes that deliberately reveal the entire synthetic blood conspiracy.

Bogart is wonderfully creepy. He’s got a sort of Peter Lorre menacing underling status here. How evil can a guy be? I doubt that there’s any other horror film character who has his resume: child-killer–as a doctor, no less, killer of ‘x’ number of assorted people to fill his Dracula-like need for fresh blood; executed, resurrected by another evil doctor, and therefore, dead for the entirety of his time as Dr. Quense.

Bogart is the reason to see this; Farmermouse thought the speeded-up car chase wasn’t bad, so he gives this five resurrected bunnies. 5/10.

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