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Film / Dr. Cyclops

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Or: The World's Scariest Optometrist!

Dr. Cyclops is a 1940 Paramount science fiction film, directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and produced by Merian C. Cooper (they of King Kong fame). The film is noted for having decent special effects for the time.

Two biologists, cranky Dr. Rupert Bulfinch and sensible Dr. Mary Robinson, and an engineer, Bill Stockton, are invited by legendary biologist Dr. Alexander Thorkel to his remote lab in Peru. They hire miner Steve Baker to take them there. They assume that they're going to be assisting Thorkel, but to their astonishment, all he asks them to do is look into a microscope for him, his eyesight being so poor he cannot do it himself. After something they see through the microscope confirms something for him, he promptly asks them to leave.

Confused and a little insulted that they travelled thousands of miles for basically nothing, the four of them refuse to go and snoop around. When Thorkel catches them, he pretends to bring them into his confidence, revealing he's been harnessing radioactivity from a nearby uranium mine to create what basically amounts to a Shrink Ray. Inviting them to look, he shrinks them, along with his Peruvian servant Pedro Caroz, who had also been present, and keeps them as test subjects. But when he discovers that they're slowly returning to ordinary size, Thorkel realizes that, once they're normal-sized again, they'll go right to the authorities, he realizes he has to kill them. After he euthanizes Bulfinch with an overdose of ether, Mary, Bill, Steve and Pedro escape into the surrounding jungle and fight to survive until they can return to normal size, while Thorkel hunts them.

For a 1970s TV kid version of the premise, there's Dr Shrinker.

This film provide examples of:

  • Adapted Out: In both the Henry Kuttner and Will Garth Novelizations, Thorkel's ill-fated assistant Dr. Mendoza neither appears nor is mentioned. This is largely because the scene where he confronts Thorkel and gets killed, the only scene in which he appears in the film, is absent from both Kuttner and Garth's books.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the novelizations, Mary's last name is changed to Phillips for some reason.
    • Kuttner's novelization in Thrilling Wonder Stories also changes the name of Pedro's dog Tipo to Paco.
  • The Alcoholic: Bill. When Mary and Bulfinch find him, he's already spent a few years at the bottom of a bottle.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Bulfinch compares Thorkel to Cyclops from "the myth of Ulysses" in reference to his narrow vision. Later, when Bill knocks one lens out of Thorkel's glasses, he says, "Now you really can call me Cyclops! I have one good eye!"
  • As You Know: Abused frequently at the beginning, first between Mendoza and Thorkel, then Kendall and Bulfinch and finally between Mary and Bill.
  • Bald of Evil: Thorkel has a shaved head.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Alexander Thorkel, the Mad Scientist who shrunk our heroes.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Thorkel is literally blind without his incredibly thick-lensed glasses. Heck, his eyesight is so poor that even with the glasses, he's basically nearly legally blind.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When Pedro gets shot, they just fall down. Since they were shot with a shotgun while shrunk, they probably should have been reduced to a small wet splat (which would be pretty grisly now and unthinkable at the time the film was made).
  • Cats Are Mean: A cat (Thorkel's, naturally) terrorizes the shrunken humans.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Dr. Mendoza has his head smashed through the glass tubing of one of his boss' uranium-powered doohickies, and receives a fatal overdose of radiation, causing his skull to visibly glow through his skin like Blight from Batman Beyond.
    • Poor Pedro. Bad enough to get shot, but to get shot with a normal-sized gun when you're the size of a doll is even worse!
  • David Versus Goliath: Pretty much the entire final act of the film, as the shrunken humans turn against their tormentor and finally drop him down into his own uranium mine.
  • Disney Villain Death: Thorkel falls into the uranium mine but grabs a rope. Bill uses some scissors to cut the rope, dropping "Dr. Cyclops" to his death in the depths of the mine.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Bill apparently has one, seeing as how he's in Peru in order to evade American authorities.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Thorkel sure is a nice and polite fella, even when trying to crush and murder his shrunken opponents.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Thorkel is a bespectacled, bald-headed Mad Scientist who thinks nothing of shrinking five people. Or of later attempting to murder them all after realizing they'll eventually return to ordinary size and probably go right to the cops.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Thorkel may be Faux Affably Evil, but he's prone to flying off the handle if needled in just the right way.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Pedro, who does everything but yell "Here I am, shoot me!" when he realizes Thorkel is about to blow the others away.
  • Improvised Weapon: The shrunken people utilize a variety of ordinary household objects as weapons, notably Bill, who wields half of a pair of scissors as a rapier, and Steve, who carries a very big barbecue fork. In the climax, after running out of ammunition, Thorkel uses the barrel of his break-top shotgun as a bludgeon.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The miniaturized victims of Thorkel's uranium-powered Shrink Ray, although as opposed to continuing to shrink, they're slowly returning to ordinary size.
  • Insufferable Genius: This is apparently Thorkel's reputation. Bulfinch can come across this way, too.
  • Magic Pants: Averted. Clothing has to be made for the shrunken people.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Seems to be Thorkel's M.O. whenever something doesn't go his way.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Although it's possible Thorkel would've eventually figured it out on his own, Bulfinch pompously pointing out that there'll be "a reckoning" once the shrunken captives revert to normal size, resulting in Thorkel realizing he has to kill them, probably didn't help.
  • Novelization:
    • Although often said to be based on a novelette of the same name by Henry Kuttner, which was published in a June, 1940 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Kutner's book was actually a Novelization of screenwriter Tom Kilpatrick and Malcolm Stuart Boylan's original screenplay. The main notable differences in this version are the absence of Dr. Mendoza, Steve Baker's reason for coming (he is looking for a Peruvian girl named Mira, who worked as Thorkel's housekeeper), and the big reveal that Thorkel is working for the Nazis!
    • A longer adaptation was published some time later by an unknown author using the house pseudonym "Will Garth."
  • Power Source: The Shrink Ray is powered by uranium.
  • Race Lift: Possibly. In the Garth Novelization, Thorkel is described as having "ebony" skin. Definitely not in Kuttner's, though, where Thorkel is of German descent and reveals he's working for Those Wacky Nazis.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Thorkel has one. He regularly feeds the animals he shrinks to it.
  • Shrink Ray: The means by which Thorkel shrinks his victims. It's basically a big silver ray gun thing he keeps locked inside of a room in his lab. Anything inside the room when it's activated gets shrunk.
  • The Sociopath: Thorkel.
  • Start to Corpse: Barely a minute has passed before Thorkel murders his colleague Dr. Mendoza at the beginning.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: About the only things supposed scientist Mary does after the protagonists are shrunk is sew them new clothes and tend to campfires. The menfolk do everything else, apart from one scene where Mary distracts an alligator so Bill, Steve and Pedro can run and retrieve some firewood.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: What Mendoza says of Thorkel's work, down to insisting he immediately stop working and burn all of his notes.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: In Henry Kuttner's novelization of the film published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Thorkel reveals that he is conducting his experiments on behalf of Nazi Germany, with the aim of creating tiny armies of German soldiers to be smuggled into enemy nations for the purposes of spying and sabotage.
  • Villain Ball: Thorkel holds it frequently. Interestingly, though, he eventually realizes it; when he notices that the shrunken people are gradually reverting to normal size, he realizes how screwed he'll be if they go to the authorities, and so he abandons attempting to study them and goes into full-blown homicidal maniac mode.
  • Villain Protagonist: Thorkel. Albert Dekker receives top billing, and has the most dialogue and screentime. The Will Garth Novelization even refers to the story as "The Amazing and Thrilling Adventures of the Super Scientist," as though Thorkel is some kind of Doc Savage style Anti-Hero whose adventures will continue beyond a mere retelling of the movie in book form.