Wed 12 Dec 2012
THE MAD DOCTOR. Paramount, 1941. Basil Rathbone, Ellen Drew, John Howard, Barbara Allen (aka Vera Vague), Ralph Morgan, Martin Kosleck, Kitty Kelly. Screenplay by Howard J. Green; cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff; art direction by Hans Dreier & Robert Usher; music score by Victor Young. Director: Tim Whelan. Shown at Cinevent 38, Columbus OH, May 2006.
Paramount was not known for its horror films (Universal pretty much had a lock on that genre in this period) but was obviously attempting to capitalize on their popularity with this rather deceptive title, which probably suggests a rather different film than the one its makers had in mind. (It was released in England under the production title, A Date with Destiny.)
In this elegantly directed and produced film, with its black and white cinematography gloriously highlighted in the pristine print, Rathbone, a doctor whose wives have a habit of dying under suspicious circumstances, moves to New York after the death of his third wife arouses the suspicions of a local practitioner (Ralph Morgan) and sets up a Park Avenue practice as a psychiatrist. He effects an apparently miraculous cure for troubled heiress Ellen Drew, with whom he becomes infatuated and whom he makes his fourth wife, an unenviable role as it inevitably turns out.
Rathbone is a smooth, polished villain who is attended by a companion (Martin Kosleck) who is very attentive to his employer’s every need and is clearly more eager to see the quick dispatch of wife number four than Rathbone. Kosleck’s dislike of women is obvious and he dreams of retiring to some foreign country where he and Rathbone can live on the inheritance from Rathbone’s most recent conquest.
Rathbone’s dramatic control contrasts nicely with Kosleck’s tendency toward scarcely contained hysteria. The net result is a rather curious film that could have benefited from some of the panache of the Universal product but impresses nonetheless with its superior production.