Plot: A series of strange, mysterious murders has the authorities baffled, even though the killer is kind enough to leave a note behind. The victims have all been strangled and a note is signed by the killer, not to mention numbered. This lets the police know the same murderer is not only responsible, but has enough of a plan to number the victims for some reason. As it turns out, the victims had some common threads and all were recently acquitted of crimes, as well as being represented by the same lawyer. That lawyer brings in Private Detective Jerry Church (Patrick Knowles) to investigate, since his client base is shrinking with each murder. As if the murder case wasn’t enough, there’s betrayals, hidden audio devices, and of course, romance, but will the lethal Doctor Rx ever be captured?
Entertainment Value: This is an odd one, a mostly straight forward murder mystery, but it takes some strange turns at times. Despite the title, this isn’t much of a mad scientist or mad doctor movie, aside from the wild sequences that involve an eerie hooded costume and a ridiculous ape. So if you want horror or sci/fi elements, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx might leave you unsatisfied, but it does have some b movie appeal, from the ape to the often awkward dialogue exchanges. The narrative seems routine, but again makes some unexpected choices and the finale is quite a swerve, though not all of the plot twists make a lot of sense. The dialogue seems to want to capture some of the magic of rapid fire, sharp banter of screwball cinema, but it feels off in most scenes, which makes sense as I’ve read a lot of the lines were improvised. And of course, not all performers are able to make improvisation work and that is often the case here, but to me, the awkward exchanges are humorous and as such, a plus. The pace tends to drag in places as well, despite barely breaking an hour of run time, not a good sign. But I think there’s enough b movie appeal in The Strange Case of Doctor Rx to lightly recommend it, as long as you know what you’re in for.
The performances here aren’t great in the traditional sense, but I had fun with the more awkward exchanges. The movie has an offbeat energy in a lot of scenes, perhaps due to the improvised lines and some of the cast not being comfortable with that approach, which leads to some mild wackiness. I love good improv of course, but bad improv can also provide entertainment, so no harm done there. Patric Knowles and Anne Gwynne have the leads in this one and much of the movie rests on them, but the dialogue just isn’t up to snuff. I think the intent was to have them as this snappy couple who have this incredible chemistry and banter, but it just doesn’t happen. Knowles is fine, but generic overall, while Gwynne brings enthusiasm and is fun to watch, so she tends to carry the shared scenes. Lionel Atwill is on hand with some humorous glasses, but again, isn’t given nearly enough to do. I love that Shemp Howard is here as well, in the role of a drunk detective, no less. The cast also includes Samuel S. Hinds, Mona Barrie, and Mantan Moreland.
The Disc: This movie is issued on Blu-ray via Scream Factory in the Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2. The treatment here is passable, but it isn’t going to bowl over fans and has some issues. A primary concern is the print, which is on the worn side and could have used some restoration work. That’s not to say it looks bad, just a little rougher than you might expect. The image shows solid detail and depth, but again, not the kind of transfer that dazzles. As for extras, we have some still photos and a twenty minute retrospective on star Lionel Atwill.
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