dr. cyclops | ernest b. schoedesack | tom kilpatrick | albert dekker | thomas coley | janice logan | mad scientist | adventure | drama | sci-fi | sci fi | united states | charles halton | victor kilian | frank yaconelli | paul fix | frank reicher | universal
Film: Dr. Cyclops
Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Writer: Tom Kilpatrick
Starring: Albert Dekker, Thomas Coley and Janice Logan
I will be perfectly honest, this was a movie that I never heard of until I decided for my podcast to do a Journey Through the Aughts and this movie came up for 1940. I was intrigued when I saw that this is a Universal film and the title was interesting. Other than that, I came in pretty green. The synopsis here is a mad scientist working in the South American jungle miniaturizes his colleagues when he feels his megalomania is threatened.
As the synopsis stated, we are in a laboratory that is the ruins of an Inca structure. The scientist working there is Dr. Thorkel (Albert Dekker). His assistant is Dr. Mendoza (Paul Fix). Mendoza is glad in thinking that Thorkel’s experiment has failed, but he reveals that is not the case. Mendoza wants him to stop what he’s doing, but Thorkel kills him in the process. This was pretty cool with the effect that they did for this as well.
We then shift to the United States. Dr. Bulfinch (Charles Halton) is being summoned to South America by Thorkel and Professor Kendall (Frank Reicher) gives his recommendation to do it. Also summoned is Dr. Mary Robinson (Janice Logan). They’re some of the leading minds in their field. Together they go to Bill Stockton (Thomas Coley) as the doctor Thorkel requested is unavailable. It takes some blackmail, but they get him to join as well.
They head down to South America and encounter Steve Baker (Victor Kilian). They purchased his mules to use, but it appears since they did he bought them in between their contract and now. He declines letting the group use them. It does take some convincing which includes him joining the expedition for Steve to relent.
The group arrives at the camp where they meet Pedro (Frank Yaconelli), a local that is helping Thorkel. He is in the middle of an experiment, but greets them afterwards. He wants Dr. Bulfinch and Bill to confirm what they see under a microscope. Thorkel’s eyes have gotten so bad he cannot use the microscope anymore. When they relay what they see, he tells the group that is all he needed and they can return to the US. This upsets them to where they won’t leave. This disregard angers Thorkel.
They decide to break into Thorkel’s lab to see what he’s up to. Pedro has been stating his horse went missing and we see that it has been miniaturized by Thorkel. He’s outraged when he discovers them snooping in his lab. He does seem to change his mind on it, but we see he really has a more nefarious plan. He shrinks them all and now is studying them as an experiment.
Having now watched this movie, I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting to get this type of story. I figured from the name that it would be a mad scientist movie. That makes sense as I’m starting to see the 1940’s did have a lot of sci-fi based horror as we really started to use science more and we’re moving more into the Atomic age. We aren’t there full blown yet, but starting to see that.
What I found interesting is that while watching this, I really started to think of the ‘Odyssey’. This really feels like Odysseus dealing with the Cyclops and it is really fitting that what the title of this movie is. We even get a couple of scenes that are eerily similar to what was done in that myth with this one eyed creature and during the climax of this, Thorkel really only can use one eye as his sight is so bad and one side of his glasses break. I will give credit for using that as a basis here as I found it intriguing.
It also works for me that it takes place in South America. The reason being there was a deposit of radium that is found there. Mendoza and Thorkel started their work there, but when of course he wanted to shut down Thorkel, he kills him. It really works for me some of the things we get with these people staying alive. The reason is that Bill is a mineralogist, Mary and Bulfinch are doctors. I think she is an engineer if memory serves. Steve is a miner. We have these people who are highly intelligent or at least experts in their specific field.
What really surprised me here though is that the movie is pretty vicious for the era. A couple of these characters are killed which I wasn’t expecting. We also get an interesting dynamic where there is a dog and a cat. The cat is painted as a villain when we realize that it has been eating some of the tiny animals that were experiments. It does come after the humans, but I think that is more to ramp up the tension for the group being small. The dog on the other hand does respond to Pedro, even in his smaller state.
Since I’m covering the animals, I want to shift this over to the effects of the movie. I’ll be honest that I thought they were really good. I know they would film the normal size things and then put our actors on a stage with items from the scene as props but much bigger. They then would superimpose them together and I’ll be honest, it looks pretty seamless. It is shocking for a movie that is 80 years old at the time of writing if I’m going to be honest. The cinematography would be lumped in there too. This movie was so in color which is different from a lot of things I’ve been watching lately as well.
I want to shift this over to the acting for the movie. Dekker is great as this megalomaniac Thorkel. He is bald and he just looks menacing. On top of that, I love that he’s treating what he’s doing like an experiment and since he’s been playing God, it has given him a complex. He does portray this villain very well and he’s one of the best parts for this aspect. I’d say the rest of the cast we got was fine. No one really stood out, but they weren’t bad. There is a bit of a romance that is tacked on at the end. I don’t really feel like it is needed as it doesn’t add much to the movie. It is typical for the era though.
The last thing I wanted to state was I wasn’t the biggest fan of the explanation that is given to reverse what is happening. It just feels convenient, like they really didn’t have an answer so they just threw something in. I would just say that even the few months they say went by, I think some would have happened molecular to them and wouldn’t be so clean cut like the movie portrays.
Now with that said, this movie was better than what I was expecting. It has an interesting parallel to the Odyssey and them dealing with the ‘Cyclops’. The movie has an interesting story to get them to South America and incorporating the science fiction aspects to the movie worked for me. I’d say that the effects are quite amazing for the time and even today it impressed me. Dekker is the best of the bunch with the acting as he’s such a great villain. The rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed. We have a low running time so I never got bored. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out and it also doesn’t hurt the movie either. I’d say that this movie is above average in my opinion. I’ll reiterate, this is from the 1940s, so if that’s a problem then I’d skip this. If not, this is a pretty solid little film that I don’t hear a lot about.
My Rating: 7 out of 10