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The Strange Case of Doctor Rx

The Strange Case of Doctor Rx(1942)


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The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

Initially titled Dr. RX, this 1942 Universal release directed by William Nigh was renamed The Strange Case of Doctor Rx to avoid any confusion with the 1932 Warner Bros. sci-fi horror, Doctor X. The film is also not a true horror film and is, more accurately, a comedy-thriller mixing together bumbling policemen, lowbrow slapstick, countless red herrings, sci-fi elements, poison pen darts and, of course, the obligatory gorilla. Lionel Atwill, who figured prominently in the publicity campaign for the movie, doesn't even have a major role in the film it's little more than a cameo but that's part of the unpredictable charm of this offbeat, energetic B-movie.

The outlandish storyline unfolds in a dizzying 68 minutes so you better keep up. It seems that a mysterious avenger is at large, murdering suspected lawbreakers who were previously acquitted of criminal charges and leaving his calling card of "Dr. Rx" behind as evidence. Private investigator Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) is assigned to the case but doesn't want it. He's got more important things to do like get married to his fiance, Kit Logan (Anne Gwynne), who wants to honeymoon in Boston. But their plans are put on hold when Church and his valet Horatio (Mantan Moreland) are abducted and whisked away to a secret laboratory where the plot takes an even stranger turn.

Anne Gwynne recalled working on The Strange Case of Doctor Rx in It Came from Weaver Five, a collection of interviews by Tom Weaver, and said it was "Fun, fun, fun. I loved working with Patric Knowles. So very tall and handsome. A Britisher and very nice but married. He and I also worked together on Sin Town [1942]." Gwynne also confirmed the long-standing rumor that much of the movie was ad-libbed. "Right, it was done off-the-cuff. I would go home at night and study my lines, only to arrive the next morning to learn that everything was thrown out! It didn't take me too many nights to know to just go home and relax there was no telling what to expect the next day but it was an anxious-to-get-the-studio feeling, that was for sure. Like in The Black Cat [1941], the ad-libs were used, only much more so. Each of us would suggest things, and the director, William Nigh, would use them. That was just great, an experience I never had before or since. Of course, as a result, there are some plot loopholes in the finished product, but who cares? It was an hour of laughs and chills, a real crowd-pleaser."

Patric Knowles, in an interview, also commented on Doctor Rx's ad-libbed nature, saying, "Yes! We all contributed. Working with Anne was a great joy. Lionel Atwill and I shared dirty stories! I retired fifteen years ago. Nowadays some people ask me, 'Didn't you use to be Patric Knowles?' They nearly always add, 'Never got the girl, did you?'" Knowles DOES get the girl in The Strange Case of Doctor Rx. It is also a known fact that he made the picture while on Army furlough during World War II.

Seen today, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is interesting for its cast of veteran character actors which includes Samuel S. Hinds (Murders in the Zoo [1933], Man Made Monster [1941]) in an atypical role, Shemp Howard (who was still a member of the Three Stooges when this was filmed) and Lionel Atwill as a suspicious character named Dr. Fish with crazy coke-bottle eyeglasses. That happens to be stuntman Ray 'Crash' Corrigan inside the gorilla costume, a role he endured again and again in such movies as Nabong (1944), Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) and Killer Ape (1953).

Director: William Nigh
Screenplay: Clarence Upson Young; Alex Gottlieb (story)
Cinematography: Elwood Bredell
Art Direction: Martin Obzina, Jack Otterson
Music: Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner (uncredited)
Film Editing: Bernard W. Burton
Cast: Patric Knowles (Private Detective Jerry Church), Lionel Atwill (Dr. Fish), Anne Gwynne (Kit Logan Church), Samuel S. Hinds (Dudley Crispin), Mona Barrie (Eileen Crispin), Shemp Howard (Det. Sgt. Sweeney), Paul Cavanagh (John Crispin), Edmund MacDonald (Det. Capt. Bill Hurd), Mantan Moreland (Horatio B. Fitz Washington).

by Jeff Stafford

AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 by Michael Brunas, John Brunas and Tom Weaver(McFarland & Associates)
Horror Film Stars by Michael R. Pitts (McFarland & Associates)

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