Partial series review: Warner Baxter as the ‘Crime Doctor’

At the end of March*, I recorded three Warner Baxter films from TCM:Crime Doctor, Just Before Dawn and Millerson Case. As it turns out, these films are part of a series which began with Crime Doctor. Nine sequels followed that first film, Just Before Dawn being the seventh installment in the series and Millerson Case being the eighth.

I’ve got a little case of OCD, so when I discovered that TCM hadn’t run the entire series and that I would be watching them out of order, I was hesitant to continue. I decided to forge ahead, though, hoping that this would be the type of loosely connected series which allows the viewer to watch the films in any order without becoming lost.

(*NOTE: March seems so far away! I wrote this post about six months ago and somehow it kept getting bumped further and further back on the blog schedule. It is a well-known fact that I write my blog posts in advance, but I don’t usually write them half a year in advance. Oops! I apologize for the delay.)

(Image: Movie Poster Shop)
(Image: Movie Poster Shop)

The films follow a man who is struggling with amnesia after being thrown out of a speeding car. His real name is Phillip Morgan, but in his amnesia he calls himself Ordway. He assumes an identity of Robert Ordway (despite being accused of faking his illness and not actually recovering any memories of his past) and rises to become one of the country’s top psychologists, specializing in criminal psychology.

What “Robert” doesn’t realize is that in his former life as Phillip before the accident, he was a criminal himself, no different than the people he is now studying and treating.

The series of films deals with Robert’s struggle of identity, later turning to focus on his work as a criminal psychologist once he finally learns about his past.

Crime Doctor appropriately gives the most focus to his identity crisis, since it is the kick-off of the series. Just Before Dawn follows Dr. Orway as he tracks down a culprit who has been replacing the insulin of diabetic patients with poison. Millerson Case tackles another poison case, this time in connection with a typhoid outbreak that occurs while Robert is on vacation.

Warner Baxter’s solid performances in all three of these films (and likely in the rest of the films, though I have yet to see them) carry the series. Low on flashy production and fairly standard in terms of crime/mystery plotlines, the real draw here is watching the talented lead actor tackle his character’s dilemmas.

The first installment of the series is, quite unfortunately, the best of the three that I watched. The plot is more intriguing, with Robert attempting to uncover his own past while at the same time forging a successful new career for himself. His past comes back to haunt him in many ways, and the character has much more depth here than when he is simply playing doctor in Just Before Dawn and Millerson Case.

The character of Robert is likable enough and the entire casts of each film are good enough to make all three films worth watching, but there isn’t as much intrigue in the sequels as there is in the original film.Crime Doctor falls a slight cut above other films of its type due to its intriguing premise, while the sequels are much more typical of the genre.

I probably will seek out the rest of the films in the Crime Doctor series, if for no other reason than to watch the great Warner Baxter (and to complete the series, since I can’t leave a series unfinished!).

The scores:

Crime Doctor: 3.5/5
Just Before Dawn: 3/5
Millerson Case: 2.5/5

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