One of the most celebrated blu-ray releases last year was Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” the once thought lost pre-code horror movie was presented in a stunning new restoration undertaken by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, in association with The Film Foundation, with funding from the Lucas Family Foundation. “Wax Museum” which was remade in the 1950s as “House of Wax” with Vincent Price, was a follow-up Warner Brothers’ 1932 Horror Thriller “Doctor X.” Now, the same team that brought us the “Wax” disc, have teamed up again to bring “Doctor X” to blu-ray in another amazing restoration.
If you’ve never seen “Doctor X,” you’ve no doubt heard the name. It’s one of many films referenced in “Science Fiction Double Feature,” the opening number from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The film, which was one of the first color horror movies, came out as part of a wave of Horror movies that were popular with American audiences thanks to Universal’s great success with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” “X” was shot in the two-strip Technicolor process, where most of the color is taken from shades of red and green.
Warner Brothers, to “hedge their bets” and save costs on the expense of printing copies of the movie in Technicolor, shot a black and white version side by side. The black and white version, which is included on the blu-ray, features a few minor differences and was for many years the only copy of the movie known to exist. The original Technicolor negatives were junked in the late ‘40s, and it was believed that all color copies of the film were lost till a Nitrate print that was owned by Jack Warner turned up in 1978.
Lionel Atwill stars in the movie was Doctor Xavier, a scientist who is determined to solve a series of murders occurring on the full moon that been dubbed “The Moon Killings.” The police suspect the killer to be one of the scientists who work at Xavier’s institute, therefore Dr. X wants the chance to find the guilty culprit before the police and press drag down the good name of his institute. Fay Wray co-stars as X’s daughter, along with Lee Tracy doing some comic relief as a reporter who wants to be the first to get the scoop on the story.
To modern eyes, “Doctor X” might not seem like much of a Horror movie, but this movie was ripped off by so many things that a lot of what is in the influential film has become cliches. “Doctor X” is also a pre-code film, made before the enforcement of the production code to keep films a bit more sanitized from “corrupting minds,” as such, the film openly talks about cannibalism, which may have been a first for a Horror film. At 76 minutes long, the movie is a great deal of fun with wonderful, shadowy visuals. A perfect programmer for a fun Halloween night of movie watching.
Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Doctor X” is fantastic! This is already a front-runner for my favorite release of the year. Not only do you have the amazing restoration to enjoy, which truly looks phenomenal, perhaps the best the film has looked since original prints were seen in 1932, but you also have a bevy of extra features. First there is the aforementioned black and white print of the film, which was shot for smaller American markets and international distribution. It also looks great in HD, and is a wonderful addition to have on the disc.
We’re treated to two fantastic commentary tracks, the first by historian and author Alan K. Rode, who wrote a book about the life and career of “Doctor X” director Michael Curtiz. The second track is by Scott MacQueen, the head of preservation at UCLA Film and TV Archive. Both tracks are fantastic, with no overlapping information. The tracks are lively, engaging, and paint a good picture of what went on surround the production of the movie.
Both gentlemen also appear in the new featurette “The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz” which gives a look at the three Horror titles the director made for the studio, “Doctor X,” “Mystery of the Wax Museum” and “The Walking Dead” which starred Boris Karloff. The feature runs for around a half-hour and is well worth your time. A before and after reel, showing off the restoration with narration by McQueen and a trailer for the black and white version of the film round out the extras. All in all, this disc is an absolute winner in every sense of the word.
It’s truly amazing what can be done with restoration now considering how little of “Doctor X” exists in the original Technicolor form. Warner Brothers, Warner Archive, and the UCLA Film and TV Archive should all be celebrated for this effort. “Doctor X” has been a long favorite of mine and to see it looking this great is a dream come true. This blu-ray gets my highest recommendation and should absolutely be a part of your collection. 10 out of 10, five stars! Don’t pass this one up. Trust me! See you next week.