The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)

I suspect that the most notable thing about this film is that it was originally going to be put on a double bill with The Wolf Man.

That, and the fact that it stars Lionel Atwill, in one of his last few roles before scandal drove him to Poverty Row, where, ironically, he made the endless series of ultra cheap horror films he is best remembered for.

Sad, really.  He was a genuinely talented actor

It also has what has to be the most boring name ever given to a mad scientist in a horror film:  Dr. Benson.

I mean, really.  Lionel was “Dr. Rigas” in Man Made Monster just months before.

After a promising Film Noir opening, with a man coming to visit the sinister Doctor Benson in the pouring rain, it somehow ends up as a shipboard drama before our characters all end up shipwrecked on a tropic island.

It has to be one of the strangest setups I’ve ever seen for a mad scientist film, with the curious result that most of it doesn’t seem much like a mad scientist film at all.  The shipboard scenes give us a fairly routine bit of comedy and a hint of romance and rivalry, and the scenes on the island start off as a fairly routine sort of castaway/hostile native sort of thing, before Dr. Benson saves a woman’s life and makes himself the White god of the island.

All this in a film that only runs about an hour long.

Naturally, this means that virtually every element in the film gets very little development.  And for some goofy reason, Comedienne Una Merkel (who plays the silly aunt on her seventh trip to New Zealand to marry the guy who is never there by the time she gets there) gets top billing.

It does start to get interesting towards the end, as Dr. Benson plans to set up his own little Island of Doctor Moreau, but by that time there just isn’t enough film left to develop it into much of anything.

And his final, inevitable end is ridiculously tame, particularly when you compare it to the  ghoulish fate of the villains in classic Universal films like The Black Cat.

But perhaps they’d had too many complaints from the Hays office by then.

All in all, it seems like nothing much, not even compared to some of Universal’s lesser Horror offerings like Captive Wild Woman.

Actually, that film seems to me the best one to compare this one to, as it borrowed much of its footage from an animal trainer drama featuring Clyde Beatty.  Universal had a knack few other studios have ever matched for reusing stock footage, which leaves me wondering if something similar didn’t happen here, particularly as the shipboard fire looks far more expensive than one would expect in a B-movie.

However, the film did give me one genuine surprise:  that native who gets two brief swimming scenes was played by swimming champion Ray Mala, best remembered for his absolutely abysmal performance as the star of the Republic serial Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island.  My dad would have been so proud of me for spotting him.

And, fortunately, he only gets a few lines of dialogue this time!

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3 thoughts on “The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)

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