Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dr. Cyclops!

I'm spending my month of October consuming some of the most entertaining sci-fi and monster flicks out there. A few years I picked up the two Universal Sci-Fi collections sold exclusively for a time at Best Buy and now available in one complete set on Amazon.

I'm starting with the real oddball in the mix, the 1940 Ernest B. Schoedsack production of Dr.Cyclops. This movie by one of King Kong's creators hits many of the same notes with an expedition finding danger on a grand scale in the remote jungle. This time though instead of a giant ape threatening wee humans, the humans get shrunk by the mad scientist Dr.Thorkel who then tries to murder them all before they can derail his crackpot schemes for world domination.

This is a movie that starts out excellently with some truly macabre scenes where Paul Fix plays the man who brought the eccentric Thorkel to the jungle and a radium deposit of magnicent proportions. The lighting is luried and shimmers as the madness of the tale reveals itself. Sadly the movie never achieves the wonderful power of the opening, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have virtues.

Thorkel calls in some respected scientists to check up on his work and then dismisses them summarily when they've done the meager work. Their pride will not allow them to leave and so they fall victim to Thorkel's power. He shrinks them and the myopic scientist becomes a "Cyclops" threatening the small group throughout the remainder of the movie.

It's right after they get shrunk that the tone of the movie undergoes a regrettable change and the well-developed tension is allowed to dwindle. We watch the shrunken humans (a blowhard elder scientist named Bullfinch, a beautiful assistant , a reluctant engineer, a itinerant fortune hunter, and Thorkel's own hispanic helper named Pedro) try to survive and the movie becomes more mild adventure rather than the great horror pic began as.

Albert Dekker as Dr.Cyclops is pretty good, though you do get weary of his mugging by the end of the flick. The greatest weakness I think is the odd shift in tone and the fact the romantic couple played by Thomas Coley and Janice Logan never seems credible to me. She's pretty spunky and he's a bit of a laconic lout.

The movie does look great from time to time, mostly when Cyclops is putting on his exotic headgear to watch radiation play across the bodies of his victims or when he's tweaking his machinery, which always seems to be doing.

This is a pretty decent movie, but when you realize what it might have been given the wonderful opening it's a shame.

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