Playing With Fire – The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)

As far as horror films go, The Mad Doctor of Market Street is a strange beast. It begins with Lionel Atwill playing the mad doctor/scientist on Market Street who looks to perfect his work with suspended animation. The film then moves into comedic territory as Atwill makes his escape upon a cruise liner with just a hint of murder mystery. Joining Atwill is Una Merkel, Claire Dodd, Nat Pendleton and Noble Johnson who are all solid players in their own right and they do a fine job with what they are given, the main problem being they are not given all that much.

Working on a shoestring budget, director Joseph H. Lewis does not necessarily do all that bad with the material, but whether comparing it to other Universal outings or simply on its own, there is not all that much to the film to keep one interested except for Atwill. At the very least, the man puts in a performance that lives up to the title of the piece as his character Dr. Ralph Benson is quite mad. He starts out as the typical crazed scientist and when the movie reaches its last act, he is mad with power as he believes that his grip on those around him is like unto iron. Eventually, it proves to be his downfall though as his original experiments had nothing to do with bringing people back from actual death and when faced with that task, it is beyond his means.  As for the rest of the characters, they simply go along with it all, delivering some mild humour which never really ends up being all that funny or humorous.

The smartest move that Lewis and writer Al Martin did with this picture was take it away from the setting of the dingy laboratory where many a film like this takes place and move it to the tropical island where the cast would find themselves for the remainder of the proceedings. What made it fail was leaving all semblance of horror behind and while one can call Dr. Benson’s actions horrible, there was nothing truly frightening about any of it. Perhaps if there had been a few sacrifices made by the natives or Benson had taken up his experiments in full measure, things might have turned out differently, but as it was, the film would keep more to its comedic turn, albeit with a dose of tension running throughout just to keep filmgoers slightly interested.

If there was one thing the movie would lack overall, it would be a lack of consistency in the material and exactly what it was trying to accomplish. One can assume the makers of this film were aiming for horror, but with all of the other elements mixed in, it felt more like an Abbot & Costello movie more than anything else. Still, at the end of the day, there was some entertainment to be had from it all, but it is not something the casual viewer would seek out, merely those who like this sort of thing and those that really enjoy Universal’s output from this time period.

2.5 out of 5

1 reply »

  1. Funny you should mention Abbott and Costello, as Lionel Atwill plays an identical role in their massive 1942 hit PARDON MY SARONG, another South Seas satire.

    Liked by 1 person

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