B Movie Nation

Foundational Cinema

B Movie News

Dr. Cyclops (1940)

This is a peculiar film to have come out of any studio in 1940, much less the stylish Paramount. Since the same year saw the equally bizarre Hal Roach production, One Million, B.C., it might not be unreasonable to assume that there was either something in the water that made them do it or else the studio chiefs were smoking weed that year. Produced and directed by the King Kong team of Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, Dr. Cyclops is a far cry from their earlier, vastly superior work, yet it’s still worth seeing. The jungle, probably a backlot job, is marvelously rendered, and the Technicolor photography is as beautiful as any I’ve seen. There’s a vividness to the color that makes it jump out at you that’s almost psychedelic.

This is basically a mad scientist tale with a gimmick, which is the eponymous doctor’s ability to shrink people to the size of elves. Much of the action revolves around the little people’s attempts to elude the mad doctor and escape from his jungle laboratory. The movie feels more like a product of the fifties than the early forties, as this theme would be returned to again in later science fiction. It’s also a tough movie to categorize, as it’s not quite horror or pure sci-fi. Like Kong Kong, it’s an action movie and technical tour de force that takes quite a few liberties with nature.

As an oddball experiment the movie works, up to a point, though it could have used more humor and irony; and the pace is less than thrilling. It’s hard to pull this sort off of story on a good day, as the improbable material needs all the help it can get. Alas, aside from the stunning color and imaginative sets, it doesn’t get much here. Most of the actors in the film are unknowns and would remain unknown, though prissy character actor Charles Halton has a decent role as one of the “shrunken”, which he plays well. The most impressive performer is also the lead player, Albert Dekker, whose life and movie career were almost as strange as this film. He is both believable and intimidating as the mad doctor, and gives the movie a touch of class.