The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is a curious oddity indeed as Universal once again struggles to fire a hit outside of the ‘classic’ monster films that they had become synonymous with. Described as a B Movie murder mystery horror, this film crunches and clunks its way through numerous genre changes in gear that it never really hits its stride. Some elements lay sway to the screwball comedies of the era, but freezes more than sizzles with its dialogue.
With Patric Knowles handed a top billing role (following his support performance in The Wolf Man) as Private Investigator Jerry Church, hired to investigate a series of murders by someone who labels himself as Rx. What is bizarre about the narrative is that it picks up after five murders have already occured which feels like a missed opportunity to build up the suspense.
Church is indeed a hot shot investigator who is at odds with his desire to do what he does best and settle down with his new wife Kit (one of the original scream queens Anne Gwynne). He is ultimately drawn into the mystery however as we too are struggling to comprehend what is actually going on.
The comedy moments aren’t enough either to lift the audience out of the confusion and fall flat, coming across as befuddling rather than bemusing.
By the film’s conclusion the script somehow manages to side step a suitable conclusion with Church placed in a dire situation without showing how he is able to escape his plight. It then wrangles a conclusion that is just as perplexing as its premise, leaving me to wonder what I had just watched.
It’s one silver screen lining is the red herring element with the great Lionel Atwill lurking mysteriously in the shadows (Man-Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street). If only his presence was felt more strongly throughout the movie. It’s absence of mystery is heavily felt and with more work on the screenplay, Universal could have had a very different film on the hands. Missed opportunity.
- Saul Muerte
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