The Return of Dr. X

Just as Agee thought mistakenly that Mr. Skeffington was “a woman’s picture”, critics even in 1939 simply grasped a thing or two about zombies or vampires. Sherman’s first film is, however, intimately connected to Agee’s turgid weeper because in reality both are cogent views of events transpiring in Europe as seen from an American perspective. Here the element under consideration is faux science as practiced by the Nazis madly to serve their ends.

Dr. Xavier starved children for therapy and was executed, Dr. Flegg raises him from the dead as a “martyr to science”. Synthetic blood cannot regenerate itself, victims are sought who have the specific blood type needed by Dr. X, whose nom de guerre is Dr. Quesne, laboratory assistant to Dr. Flegg (mimicking Flagg & Quirt).

The revivification scene is alarmingly acted by John Litel as brisk business by a medical man. Wayne Morris has the job of reporter from Kansas smilin’ through the Big Apple. Bogart is X, a variant of his book collector in The Big Sleep. Dennis Morgan is an honest surgeon.

A dead Russian actress returns palely to life with a lawsuit against the paper that reported her murder, a scene that figures directly in Polanski’s Chinatown.

Since, notwithstanding the theme, this is all a brilliant comedy, no-one seems to have known what to make of it, critically speaking. The second victim is described as a “professional blood donor”, whose place has to be taken by a student nurse.

The clerk in the newspaper’s file room or morgue is played by Huntz Hall as a cousin to Meet John Doe’s copy boy and Chinatown’s records clerk. The last scene indicates the correct transmission of “the life which is in the blood”.


All Through the Night

This is, of course, the eventuality described by Rick in Casablanca, Nazis in New York.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times tried to be droll, he pretended that he hadn’t seen Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy and Dassin’s Nazi Agent, but speaks of “precision and steadily maintained suspense”, moreover Bogart and Veidt get top praise. He is also aware of direct influence from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and Lang’s M, and could not know how Hitchcock would repay in the auction scene of North by Northwest, for example.

Sherman’s film has had many students, notably Malle in Atlantic City from the Westmore Hotel.

Geoff Andrew of Time Out Film Guide somehow finds it “unremarkable” and “less than inspired,” Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader says with equal absurdity it’s “completely inconsequential—but so what?”

Runyon’s Broadway boys (ahead of Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi and Hodges’ Get Carter) against “fifth-colyumnists” who want it all, everything, the “lever of love” is their weapon, Dachau, and sabotage and disorder and chaos upon which to rule.

“Gripping espionage meller,” said Variety.


Old Acquaintance

The “American mining expert” in the Birchfield Beacon who “asks British citizenship” is naturally T.S. Eliot in a film about literary matters.

“It’s a good thing I came in here, you’d have slept right through your own home town!”

Cukor’s Rich and Famous.

Franz Waxman in Sherman’s brilliant milieu assumes another persona.

“Success is thrilling, isn’t it, Kit?”

A terribly authentic, hard-working and especially fortunate director, Sherman, who heaps up his fortune as he goes along, working hard and hardly working by turns, more in the shot than he had bargained for and then more painstaking edits to construct a scene and arrive at it again.

“Millie, do you know anything at all about men?”

“Do you?

This, to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, was “tedious spectacle... overdressed, overstuffed”, an absurd opinion as dumb as they come and therefore worthy of the metropolis, everyman’s mind. “Fine script”, said Variety, “fine directing job.”

Time Out says, “arrant nonsense” (Tom Milne).



Mr. Skeffington

Some sources identify this as Mrs. Skeffington. Agee fluffed it. It’s embarrassingly great, to the point of seeming almost apologetic at the end.

As fine as the comedy is, the tragedy matches it. Orson Welles’ nightmare vision of Jane Eyre is given a finer point anticipating the return of Otto Frank. You can just about wallow in this piece of brilliance, because just about nobody knows about it, even though (among other things) it’s an immediate and very capable response to Citizen Kane, right down to the montages, and The Magnificent Ambersons (among other things).


The Hasty Heart

Digger and Kiwi and Yank and Basuto and Tommy give it the sendoff, because there is that that dies on the war’s last day.

The fine, noble score by Jack Beaver introduces a fine British picture (cinematography Wilkie Cooper) remembered by David Lean in The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “somewhat limited... quietly diverting.”

Variety, “play has grown in range of feeling on the screen.”

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “affecting... contrived... laced with humor.”

Leonard Maltin, “sensitive”.

Tom Milne (Time Out), “leaden... tearjerking”.

“Have ye ever thought o’ lookin’ for work in Scotland?”

“Good Lord, no, has anyone?”

A burning question of the war, what’s under the little perisher’s nether garment?

“I’ve no words for ye.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “flat, adequate”.



Young men back from the war, and Sherman incidentally emphasizes their strangeness in the civilian landscape after five years, are still some of them in Veteran’s Hospitals for a “long siege”, this film recounts the war as a crime drama set in Southern California, how it looks from another perspective.

“It does!” (Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, a moron).


The Young Philadelphians

The eld prey upon them without a thought and rob them of money, name, life, everything.

A.H. Weiler of the New York Times, never the brightest of men, thought of this as “soap opera” but constructed a reasonably accurate précis. The hero, “it appears, is talked out of a quick marriage to a social young lady by her suave lawyer-father. In calculated reprisal, he sets his sights on success in the silken Machiavellian style of the Philadelphia upper crust. Although he is well on his way as a tax expert in a flossy law firm, the fruits of achievements are tasteless until he is forced into defending his friend. The friend, now turned into a wastrel and alcoholic through the machinations of his rich relatives, is charged with the murder of his uncle.

“At this point, our harried hero, discreetly threatened by a whole slew of Main Liners, learns that his fine good name only masks his illegitimacy. Undaunted, however, he proceeds to do the honorable thing and, strangely enough, brotherly love finally does reign supreme.”


Ice Palace

From Edna Ferber, the constellation of Stevens’ Giant is visible in the sharp contraposition of interests in Alaska after the Great War and up to the time of statehood, which is understood as a legal remedy sought and avoided but proves a political one.

Derided by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times as “intolerable” and by Time Out Film Guide as “never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width Hollywood”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide finds “no real grip”.