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Film / Doctor X

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A 1932 mystery-horror-comedy film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Lee Tracy, Lionel Atwill, and Fay Wray.

It follows New York newspaperman Lee Taylor (Tracy) as he covers the investigation of a series of full-moon murders in which victims are strangled, cut with a scalpel, and partially cannibalized. Evidence points to the Academy of Surgical Research, where five scientists — including the director, Dr. Xavier (Atwill) — have remained to continue their research while the students are on holiday.

Desperate to protect the reputation of his institution, Xavier strikes a bargain with the police: he will bring the suspects to his Long Island mansion and monitor their vital signs as they watch staged reenactments of the crimes. If he can discover the killer within 48 hours, his name and the Academy's will not be revealed to the newspapers in connection with the murders.


Lee will have nothing of this. He reports the story anyway, and secretly follows the investigation right to the mansion. Too bad Xavier's daughter, Joan (Wray), already recognizes him...

Doctor X was shot in both black-and-white and Technicolor; it was one of the last films to use the two-strip Technicolor process. The color version was believed to be lost until 1978, when a print was discovered in Jack Warner's personal collection. This, in its restored form, is now considered the definitive print, and for over 30 years was the only version of the film available until an HD restoration of the black-and-white version was included on the 2021 Blu-ray release as a bonus feature.

An In Name Only sequel, The Return of Dr. X, was filmed in 1939. It starred Humphrey Bogart.



  • Mad Scientist: All of the doctors have elements of this, but the killer embodies the trope perfectly.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Implied to be part of two of the doctors' shared backstory.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The killer embodies this trope in spirit: even though he really does have only one hand, he is able to easily produce a functional, living replacement.
  • Porn Stash: Haines's magazine of "French art," hidden in a book.
  • Red Herring: Doctor X, X being the unknown, is likely to make viewers think the killer is Xavier, whose name starts with an X.
  • Red Right Hand: Three of the five doctors have physical oddities that could potentially mark them as villainous: Haines wears a goatee, Rowitz has a Dueling Scar and a dark monocle, and Duke uses a wheelchair and crutches. Of the other two, Xavier is ordinary-looking and Wells's one-handedness actually exempts him from suspicion.
  • Running Gag: The hand buzzer.
  • Scary Flashlight Face: Used several times (without actual flashlight), especially when Otto is in the shot.