Doctor Cyclops (1940) DVD Review

Director: Ernest B Schoedsack | Run time: 71 minutes | Fabulous Films | On sale 21st August

Set in a jungle, the movie follows four explorers as they search for legendary physicist Dr.Cyclops. When they discover their missing colleague, they find his brilliant mind has been warped by radiation and decide to return him to civilization for psychiatric help. But the half-blind, half-mad scientist will have none of that, and uses an experimental body altering device to reduce his former friends to one-fifth their normal size. Now, harmless items and small creatures suddenly become giant-sized instruments of death!

The opening sequence looks ahead of its time, with the titular Doc in his lab. The cinematography, by Henry Sharp, who started in the biz back in 1920, is an aqua blue with a weird ripple effect that baths the actors in a strange glow. Albert Dekker’s oddball appearance in the role of Dr. Thorkel takes on a David Lynch like vibe as a result.

It is Dekker that gives the most memorable performance. He is either deliberately hamming it up or the director instructed him to act like a overzealous trainspotter. Some consider it his defining role in cinema. Dekker was found dead in 1968. He was discovered in a bathtub with a gag in his mouth, blindfolded, a noose around his neck, he was also bound, had syringes in both arms and his naked body had been covered in swear words written with lipstick. His death was laughably ruled as accidental asphyxiation.

This being a sci-fi flick of a bygone era, it has dated an awful lot and features tropes typical of that same era. What makes it stand out from other science fictions of this period however is the fact it is in technicolor. Many others would be in black and white, well into the fifties.

Credit should also go to the effects that, while easy to tell how they were managed in 2017, are impressive for 1940. The massive oversized sets and props look as if a lot of effort had been put into them. They even earned the movie an Oscar nomination at the 13th Academy Awards.

The movie is clearly made on a stage, despite best efforts to appear in some exotic locations. No doubt sets from a previous Paramount film that happened to be gathering dust.

Director Schoedsack does a standard job here, which is a shame based on his past record. He, along with Merian C Cooper, directed the original King Kong (1933). He also directed the excellent The Most Dangerous Game (shot on the same sets as Kong).

This is a short and, in a way, charming movie that has some perks.

Order here.