Monday 19 March 2007

Crime Doctor (1943) Michael Gordon

Herbert Hoover wants to be reelected president, or so the sign says, so you can imagine how far back we're going here. Yet we have a psychologist as the hero, the crime doctor of the title, Dr Robert Ordway. He starts out as Phil Morgan, being thrown out of a moving vehicle and left for dead. Luckily he gets picked up by the next car that comes along and makes an almost complete recovery in the Dr Robert Ordway Memorial Hospital. The one piece of him that doesn't heal is his memory: he's a complete amnesiac case, unable to even remember who he is. He takes the name of the hospital given that the cute buxom nurses have been calling him that anyway, and his doctor, Dr John Carey, takes it upon himself to try to bring back his memory.

When none of the methods they come up with work, he decides to learn the trade and become a doctor good enough to treat himself. He works his way through medical school and an internship at an insane asylum to become Dr Carey's junior partner. As he progresses up to become a notable criminal psychologist and even chairman of the parole board, he comes into occasional contact with people from his past who offer tantalising hints as to who he used to be. The thing is that he doesn't seem to have been a good guy.

This is a fascinating little film that feels way too tight and in depth to be only 66 minutes long. Psychology or psychiatry or any such science wasn't particular evolved in 1943 and it's interesting to see the subject in the forefront of a long running series, one that was apparently a major success on radio before translating into pictures. Warner Baxter is excellent as the title character. I've seen him in a lot of films, mostly from the thirties playing supporting roles, but here it's the forties and he's found a character he can sink his teeth into. He went on to play the Crime Doctor in all ten films in the series and it's going to be fascinating catching up with them all, every Saturday morning on TCM.

However much his nurse, later his receptionist, wants to land him, his leading lady is Grace Fielding, played here by Margaret Lindsay who had warmed up for the role with seven turns as the leading lady in the Ellery Queen series. This series didn't last for her as Dr Robert Ordway seems to have found a new leading lady for each film. Chief villain Emilio Caspari is played by John Litel, another actor who I know far better from the thirties than the forties. He had his own regular role in detective B movies of the era, having played Nancy Drew's father in all four movies, outlasting Bonita Granville herself. I wonder how many people didn't have regular roles in forties detective movies!

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