Apparently, the last time I saw The Mysterious Doctor (in 2001), I didn’t think much of it, rating it at one and a half. It’s a little low, since the film transcends propaganda, which many 1940s propaganda films did, but The Mysterious Doctor does it in interesting ways. Its mood isn’t the usual for a propaganda film. Instead of an espionage thriller or a war film, it’s a ghost story. The first time I saw the film, I compared it–as many do–to a Universal monster movie of the same era. It’s actually not. If it emulates any form, it’s a Val Lewton film. While the setting–a small English village–and the frequent fog might suggest the Universal films, The Mysterious Doctor spends a lot of time on bit characters, something the Universal films had long since stopped doing by 1942. There’s also something else… humor. The Mysterious Doctor has some gags and funny lines; there’s a definite emphasis on amusing the audience.
The film’s pace has a lot to do with its success. It runs under an hour and probably has a present action of three or four days yet, there are subplots and, until the awkwardly staged finale, some rather good performances. Warner used to use their “B” pictures to groom actors for the “A” films and, in Mysterious Doctor, it’s pretty obvious who they were grooming–Eleanor Parker. Though she doesn’t show up until ten or twelve minutes into the film (with a fifty-seven minute picture, that delay is considerable), once she does, she’s the film’s protagonist, with a rather forceful performance. She’s got some good scenes and she gives one particularly great speech, chastising the terrified men of the village. John Loder’s perfectly sturdy–until the end, when most things are falling apart anyway–and their two performances make up for the weaker ones… particularly Bruce Lester, who isn’t terrible, but he’s flimsy.
Technically speaking, Stoloff’s is decent, more impressive when he’s not doing the thriller aspects of the film. I can’t remember if the script’s predictable–I remembered one of the major twists a few minutes into the film and it seems pretty obvious, so it probably is an unsurprising experience, which is fine. It’s a nice package.
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff; written by Richard Weil; director of photography, Henry Sharp; edited by Clarence Koster; released by Warner Bros.
Starring John Loder (Sir Henry Leland), Eleanor Parker (Letty Carstairs), Bruce Lester (Lt. Christopher ‘Kit’ Hilton), Lester Matthew (Dr. Frederick Holmes), Forrester Harvey (Hugh Penhryn) and Matt Willis (Bart Redmond).