The Mad Doctor of Market Street

10/05/2022 06:36

Film: The Mad Doctor of Market Street

Year: 1942

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Writer: Al Martin

Starring: Una Merkel, Lionel Atwill and Nat Pendleton



This is a movie that I discovered thanks to Letterboxd when searching for horror from 1942. What was interesting here is that this is another starring, Lionel Atwill. He’s an actor that I recognized but didn’t know he was as prolific as he was. Other than that, from the title I figured we are getting another mad scientist film from the era.

Synopsis: a mad scientist is forced to leave San Francisco when his experiments become known. A shipwreck lands him and other survivors on a tropical island, where he takes control with his experiments and terrorizes the local populace.

We start this as the synopsis says in the city of San Francisco. Dr. Ralph Benson (Atwill) wants to shift his experiments from animals to test on humans. He puts out the word and it draws William Saunders (Hardie Albright). Dr. Benson offers him $1,000 dollars to be a guinea pig. When he doesn’t return home, this worries his wife, played by Anne Nagel. She alerts the police. Dr. Benson flees, unable to finish his experiment to bring William back to life. Dr. Benson is wanted for murder.

The movie then shifts to a cruise ship. On it are Aunt Margert Wentworth (Una Merkel) with her niece, Patricia (Claire Dodd). There is also Red Hogan (Nat Pendleton) who is a boxer on his way to fight. There is also a crewman, Jim (Richard Davies). Dr. Benson is also on board, going by the name of Graham.

A police officer or a private detective notices Graham and confronts him. To avoid capture, Graham knocks him out and tosses him overboard. Jim sees and sounds an alarm. The ship then catches fire, causing everyone to abandoned. Ending up on an island are Aunt Margert, Patricia, Red, Jim and Graham. I also believe there’s another survivor with them.

This island is inhabited though. The chief is Elan (Noble Johnson). They believe that ‘white people’ bring bad luck. That’s how they explain that his wife, Tanao (Rosina Galli) is dying. Graham reveals that he’s Dr. Benson and claims he can help her. In doing so, he wants to be leader on this island and has the natives capture the other survivors. He doesn’t want them to get away and turn him in. Dr. Benson is ruthless and wants to expand his experiments while here. He also has an eye for Patricia, who has taken a liking to Jim.

That should give you a better idea of what this story is doing and the characters themselves. Where I’ll start is that we have an interesting idea here. To me, it feels like this is borrowing from H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, or at least the basic premise of taking a mad scientist and putting him on an island. I like the concept though and what they do with it. It is taking people that do not know science. They’re primitive in that sense. Dr. Benson takes advantage when they see he can help the chief’s wife. There is commentary here about us following what doctors say. I mean I think we got more of this back in this era, but even today individuals will without question. This is also interesting that we have another film from this year depicting a bad doctor like this.

Sticking with science, I want to go over to the experiment. Dr. Benson can put people in a state of suspended animation and then bring them back. What is interesting is that something happened to get the police after him and it is when William dies that he is wanted. I believe they are originally after him for wanting to conduct his experiment on people, but until he tries, their hands are tied. What is interesting is that if the police don’t show up, William is alive. He dies when Dr. Benson flees without taking him out of this status. I thought that was interesting angle. The movie doesn’t delve too much into the science of what he is doing, but we don’t need to. Watching this with modern eyes, we put patients in comas for certain procedures to help them so it is plausible to me. We can also take them out of it and that is what I believe Dr. Benson is doing.

Where I want to go then would be the setting. I like that it establishes things in the city before Dr. Benson goes on the run. From there, we are on a cruise ship which contains it while still giving room to move. Finally, it goes to the island. I love this because they’re stranded. Dr. Benson doesn’t want them to be discovered as he know he could face prosecution. He is also treated like a king here. Being shipwrecked is great and I love movies set on an island like this. Having a mad doctor in charge of a tribe of natives also adds tension as well which works.

That should be enough for the story so I want to take this to the acting. I’ll start with Atwill who is great as this evil mad scientist. There are things he says that I can see the logic behind. He is a villain and plays it well with the arrogance he brings to the role. Merkel is funny as Aunt Margaret. She is a gossip which gets her into trouble. Pendleton is fine as our rough boxer. He also adds levity in that he’s ready to brawl whenever. Dodd is fine as our ‘damsel in distress’ even though she isn’t given a lot to work with. I like Davies in his role. There are cameos by Nagel and Johnson who were good. The acting was solid across the board in my opinion.

Finally, I’ll come to the filmmaking. I said I like the settings so I’ll give credit to the cinematography. It doesn’t feel like sets which are good. The island feels like the characters are there with adds realism for me. I would then say that the rest of the cinematography is fine. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but we also don’t need them either. The soundtrack didn’t necessarily stand out to me, but it also fit for what was needed.

In conclusion, this is an interesting film for the era. We are getting a mad scientist and then stranded him on an island inhabited by natives. This isn’t the first to do that, but it does enough different there. I thought that the acting was good, being led by Atwill. The rest of the cast around him works. I’d say that the filmmaking aspects are fine without necessarily standing out. I did like the settings though. This is a quick watch, which I appreciate. It doesn’t do a lot to set itself apart though.


My Rating: 7 out of 10