May 5th, 2010

krazy koati

Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown

More miscellaneous films caught while WiiFit exercising: 1932's Doctor X, a pre-code horror-ish thing starring Fay Wray and a bunch of people who never heard of you either. This is a weird one, looking initially like a faded copy of Frankenstein but moving rapidly into grisly-murder-mystery territory. You see, there's been a series of murders at the full moon the last several months, and only very specific nerves were excised from the victims. The police determine the nerves could be extracted using only very rare surgical instruments, and find only one hospital in the area has them, and what do you know but it's chock full of quirky borderline-mad sciencey medical type people with various mental and physical defects.

In order to avoid gruesome publicity the police give the hospital's head 48 hours to figure out on his own which of the doctors did it, and I know everything was more casual back then but did the police really ever take such a hands-off interest in serial killers that command eight-column headlines? But with the aid of a newspaper man who combines determination and ingenuity --- including sneaking into a morgue as a corpse on the chance he might hear something juicy --- and agonizing comedy bits --- though he does a nice bit of business with one of those skeletons medical types always have in closets --- the head hooks up all the suspects to complicated bubbling-mercury vertical-tube lie detectors while they watch a ``reenactment'' of the murder to see who gets the most excited and is therefore guilty and just pretend it makes sense please.

That said, the movie is honestly creepy when it's able to sustain a mood, even if the logic of the investigation starts out stupid and never recovers. I think a big part of it is this 1932 movie is shot in two-strip Technicolor (much like the lone color Betty Boop cartoon), with good reproduction of red and green but flaky reproduction of other colors, particularly blue. The effect of this is that skin tones (all the players are white) come across reasonably well, and even clothes and some important artifacts look ... not quite natural, but not quite unreal either. But the backgrounds fade into this weird greyish-blue haze, so it doesn't look quite like a color or a black-and-white film. It gives the production a dreamlike quality, and when it gets creepy, a nightmarish air. I wonder how much the set and costume design was tailored to give everything that surreal effect, because it really works astoundingly well.

Trivia: Tolls on London Bridge were abolished in 1315, but were restored by around 1356-57. Source: Old London Bridge: The Story Of The Longest Inhabited Bridge In Europe, Patricia Pierce.

Currently Reading: Lee de Forest and the Fatherhood of Radio, James A Hijiya. Boy, I ... you know, I can accept general histories of radio not presenting de Forest in a fully flattering light, but when his own biographer seems to be edging around saying ``he was involved a lot in business deals that were awfully scammy'' exactly it gets hard to feel quite for the guy. I'm used to biographies making me appreciate the subject more.