When the moon gets full, the “Moon Killer” strikes. Strangling the victims with his strong hands and then using a surgeon’s scalpel to skin off portions of their flesh.
All clues point the police and the press to the staff at Doctor Xavier’s (Lionel Atwill) Academy of Surgical Research. Doctor Xavier manages to get 48 hours from the police to allow him to ferret out the guilty party. He whisks his fellow doctors off to his cliffside manor to perform psychological experiments.
If the authorities are too deferential toward Doctor Xavier, the press is not so easily placated. Beat writer Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy) sneaks along to get the full scoop. He becomes especially engaged when meeting the Doctor’s young daughter (Fay Wray).
Contrary to popular belief, color film was available well before sound, Unlike sound audiences didn’t demand color features until the 50s and 60s. Doctor X is one a few prominent features filmed in the Technicolor’s “two color strip” process/ which utilized a red channel and a green channel. The distinction of being a color film is a blessing and a curse. For all the historical significance associated with the feature, the film itself is remarkably shoddy. Actors constantly flub their lines throughout the film. I can only imagine this was due to the expense of shooting on color stock. First takes would have to do. Of course this deflates any attempt for Doctor X to build its own world.
Lee Tracy seems a bit miscast in the role of the plucky, reluctant hero. The film will leave him alone in its spooky set pieces, and his reaction is to audition to be a Marx Brother. Practicing prat falls and scared expressions. The rest of the cast is generic but perfectly suited for the blend of old dark house, horror, sci-fi, and mystery that the film aims for.
It would feel like watching a poorly rehearsed stage play if the great Michael Curtiz was not behind the camera. The set pieces here are fantastic, easily rivaling anything German Expressionism could boast.