Spoooooky October, movie buffs! This year, I do plan to continue the TMP tradition of Horror Half-Week in the days leading up to Halloween, but the rest of the month will feature some spooks as well. I have a little backlog of mysteries and monster movies to review. We begin today with 1940’s Dr. Cyclops.
Dr. Cyclops follows Dr. Mary Robinson (Janice Logan), Dr. Rupert Bulfinch (Charles Halton), and their team of scientists. They’ve been summoned to a remote jungle laboratory compound operated by the odd Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker).
When the team arrives at Thorkel’s lab, he asks them to assist in just one task. He needs them to look in a microscope for him, as his eyesight has stopped him from completing his analysis.
Thorkel is eager for Mary and Rupert to leave after he gets his results, but having traveled so far to visit his lab, the team decides to settle in. They want to know more about Thorkel’s experiments… unaware that they may soon become the experiment.
Dr. Cyclops was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and written by Tom Kilpatrick. It is based on a story of the same name by Henry Kuttner. Schoedsack reunites with King Kong co-director/producer Merian C. Cooper to bring this tale of jungle laboratories and wild scientists to life.
While the title may suggest a creature feature about a gigantic, one-eyed doctor-monster, Dr. Cyclops falls into one of my favorite categories of science fiction: the “shrunken people” film. This one has all of the elements you’d hope for and expect from such a film, including encounters with now-enormous wildlife. The jungle surrounding Thorkel’s compound has bears, crocodiles, exotic birds, and even cheetahs!
The tiny folks don’t talk much, making portions of their experience feel like a silent adventure. There’s even a slightly-slapstick element to certain scenes (like their attempted escape while Thorkel is sleeping), which I found really fun to watch.
Thorkel is “tampering with powers reserved to God,” as one character warns him directly, but he doesn’t care — he’s having the time of his life. Albert Dekker’s performance is delightful and perfectly villainous. After shrinking his fellow scientists, he speaks to them as though they’re both scientific subjects and children.
The film also makes a really cool use of Technicolor. Much of the picture has a vibrant but earthy tone, but there’s also some heavy use of blues and greens, which (along with the doctor’s groovy goggles and lab equipment) add to the film’s “mad scientist” mood.
The pace of Dr. Cyclops does slow at times, but it still held my interest with its dedication to trying to sound scientific, its sense of humor, and Thorkel’s general wackiness. Recommended for fellow fans of such classics as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Attack of the Puppet People.