The strangest thing about Universal’s horror output during the Forties is that they somehow managed to make one of their classics, The Wolf Man. The rest of their offerings seem mixed, at best, with a few truly strange offerings, like turning a Clyde Beatty animal training movie into a horror film (or any of the other Paula Dupree apegirl films), or The Mad Doctor of Market Street (which veers from Film Noir to shipboard comedy, to castaways on a lost native island), or that attempt to turn poor Rondo Hatton into a horror icon, all balanced off by a few not so bad efforts like Man Made Monster.
This one falls heavily on the stranger end of the scale. While it is billed as a horror film — and yes, includes both a mysterious killer and a mad scientist scene! — it is really a detective thriller, with a Private Eye trying to find the mysterious Dr. Rx. Rx kills criminals who haven’t been found guilty, including one who is actually murdered right in the courtroom, apparently strangled by unseen hands!
However, it does take time out from our hero interviewing suspects and unexpectedly marrying his squabbling girlfriend halfway through (revealed in a scene which would have got the film censored if the two hadn’t got married off screen beforehand! Considering the grief Parmount got for Murders at the Zoo, you have to wonder if they were deliberately thumbing their nose at the Hays Office), not to mention a bit of sinister lurking by Lionel Atwill, and some comedy relief with Shemp Howard and Mantan Moreland, to give us a wild scene where a masked Dr. Rx kidnaps the hero and threatens to switch his brain with that of a gorilla (played, naturally, by Ray “Crash” Corrigan in that all too familiar Ape suit!)
Mind you, it all turns out to be a fake, and we really aren’t left with any SF elements except that the villain uses a weapon disguised as a pen and a mysterious poison. I’m not sure whether it was a script error, misread line or perhaps a deliberate joke that the poison came from South Africa, and not the usual source favored in these sorts of films, South America.
Mind you, the villain’s motives are rather…convoluted, and he puts a lot of effort to bring the one man who can solve the mystery (as everyone keeps saying) into the case so that he can scare him off again.
It’s breezy, moves fast and offers a few interesting moments. But it ain’t The Wolf Man.
Nor for that matter is it Man Made Monster.
It’s just an average Forties detective thriller. With a mad scientist.
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