Wednesday, January 19, 2011

THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET (1942)

How many horror-movie fans have actually seen this on commercial-broadcast TV? I pose this question because I was surprised to see just how infrequently THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET was shown in the usual "Shock Theatre/Creature Feature"-style time slots. In fact, it turned up more in the late afternoon and early evening, sometimes as part of of showcases with unintentionally amusing titles like "Hollywood's Best" and "Million Dollar Movie" (this movie is a long way from meeting either of those descriptors). Perhaps one reason for its appearance in those other programming niches is that it plays more like a tropical island adventure tale-comedy-romance than it does a horror melodrama.

Mirek first wrote about THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET back in June 2008 for this blog and emphasized the atmosphere of the first seven minutes or so when we visit Dr. Benson's lab in San Francisco one dark and stormy night. Most of the research that I've read about this movie says that these scenes were tacked-on as an afterthought-- the entire movie was originally set on the New Zealand-bound luxury liner and on the island after the shipwreck. This underscores for me the possibility that this film had been meant more as a South Pacific island adventure than a horror movie.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston,WV, November 22, 1959

It's worth watching for Lionel Atwill's work as Dr. Benson; the guy seems to be savoring his every line as the megalomaniacal research chemist who believes that he can find a way to make suspended animation a viable medical procedure for beating death. When he sets up himself as the "God of Life" among the island's "superstitious savages," things almost get a little bit Heart of Darkness, but Atwill's mad scientist is too incompetent to really pull off the Kurtz business. He's not a mad scientist because he's brilliantly unorthodox; rather, he's dangerous because he doesn't realize that he's not very smart at all. This is the one interesting idea-kernel at the center of this silly movie: what would happen if one of those sad, creepy misfits who would ordinarily be shunned by society was able to achieve absolute social power? (When the movie was made in 1941, this could very well have been meant as a pointed critique of the anti-social losers who had risen to the top by joining fascist political parties. And then in 1965, that theme gets applied to juvenile delinquents in Bert I. Gordon's VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, I suppose...) There's not enough time in this movie to explore the theme, but it is in there somewhere.

I also like small parts of THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET because I'm a fan of director Joseph H. Lewis; as in a previous SHOCK! offering THE SPY RING, Lewis manages to smuggle in some cinematic style and atmosphere despite the microscopic budget and two-week shooting schedule. (One bit of business that's overdone, though, are the scenes where Atwill delivers anesthetic to his patients by advancing into the camera and smothering the lens with ether-soaked items-- Lewis does this three times in 61 minutes).

Beyond Atwill and Lewis and the mutant fusion of horror, comedy, romance, and South Seas island picture (and it's as messy as it sounds), THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is sort of entertaining in a goofy, Poverty Row horror kind of way. I almost want to like it, but top-billed Una Merkel's shrill, grating Aunt Margaret and Nat Pendleton's distracting mugging as boxer Red Hogan is a deadly, unfunny combination. The two of them all but snuff the life out of this motion picture for me.

"PSSST!! PSSST!! PA-TRICCCCC-IA!!"

THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET drinking game: take a shot of liquor every time that Nat Pendleton rolls his tongue along the inside of his cheeks like he's doing in this still. But beware the "weenie roast" scene!


I don't know much about these South Pacific island adventure movies; I've read that they were very popular with audiences over the years. The filmmakers do they best that they can with camera set-ups and blocking to give you the impression that this is a sizable tropical island rather than some Universal studio lagoon beach. The natives on the island are of the usual hokey Hollywood ooga-booga variety and there is plenty of grunting and mumbling gibberish that is supposed to pass for language. African-American actor Noble Johnson-- last seen around here a few days ago in whiteface as Janos the Black One in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE-- returns in the MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET as chief Elan; he really makes the most of this very limited material and comes off better than you might expect. It's a shame, though, that Dr. Benson's hubristic fall at the hands Elan is alluded to off-screen rather than shown.


Listing in the Lowell [MA] Sun for WLVI-Boston's 10PM double-feature, Friday October 27, 1967. It's a full ten years after the launch of the SHOCK! package on TV and so outside of my usual scope of investigation, but I had to reproduce the listing here-- how's that for some clever programming of a late-night double-feature?!? And what a completely bizarre description of what THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is about...




NEXT: "Is she a beautiful beast? Maddening with her soft caress-- murdering with steel-clawed terror? Only Edgar Allan Poe could pen such a masterpiece of horror and thrills. See THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, the full-length feature film on Shock on this channel."

4 comments:

michael said...

I remember the night MAD DR OF MARKET STREET showed up on Creature Features on KTVU 2in 1974. I grew up just down the way from San Francisco, and naturally assumed the city would be the backdrop for the film. Talk about disappointed. The film played at least three times on Creature Features between 1974 and 1976.

The Universal package moved to KBHK 44 in the early 80s and MAD DR appeared a few times on the Monstrous Movie program between 1981 and '84.

But the first airings were on Nightmare, where it aired 3 times between 1958 and 1961.

I'm sure - with the Universal package in rotation at various Bay Are stations - that it played a few more times beyond those mentioned.

Not too bad a run...

The Creeping Bride said...

Thanks for the information, michael. My searches for the films are not all-inclusive for the US and I mostly limit myself to between 1957 and 1970. I appreciate your sharing the info with us.

I sometimes look at the '70s and '80s listings out of curiosity and find that some SHOCK! titles like THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET (I think SECRET OF THE CHATEAU was another?) actually turn up more in the '70s than in the previous decade; this surprises me since presumably the stations have access to so many more films (including sci-fi movies), so I would think that the horror-movie "outliers" would disappear instead of turning up more frequently.

Your post made me wonder about how often I had been exposed to it on the East Coast in the 1970s. I found only two showings of MAD DR in the 1970s in all of the NYC and Boston monster movie shows (the remarkable WOR-TV's "Fright Night" show aired it once in 1975 at 1AM). Out of curiosity, I looked at the listings for all of Dr Paul Bearer's shows in Florida and NC in the '70s (which rolled a lot of SHOCK! and Son of SHOCK titles), and only saw two screenings (one in 1974 and the other in 1976) for MAD DR.

KRON's "Nightmare" seemed to show it the most regularly... I wonder if the San Francisco connection made it more of a programming favorite??

michael said...

Nightmare was launched specifically as a vehicle for the SHOCK package back in 1957, and pretty much stuck to it through it's run - though non-Universal films began to seep in along the way.

I'm not sure exactly how it related, but there was a definite surge in horror hosts - and unhosted shows - in the early 70s, pretty much the time the super-spy genre (which had superseded the Monster Boom in the mid-60s) had lost its cultural punch.

In this area at least, the SHOCK package returned in the early 70s and was passed around to at least four (maybe five) significant stations throughout the next fifteen years (at least twice and maybe three times the period the original SHOCK shows aired from '57 to the early/mid 60s) in the Bay Area alone. If we include the Sacramento and valley areas, that number jumps considerably.

With that much play - and some of these shows were double bills - the Universal 'B's likely wound up airing at least as many times as the classic 'A' titles.

In the pre-Ted-Turner-owns-everything days, I wonder if the black and white Universal packages were cheaper to license than the newer color titles? Universal still had significant cache besides.

kochillt said...

THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET aired only 3 times on Pittsburgh's CHILLER THEATER, Dec 18 1965 (with THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON), Dec 28 1974 (with 1970's NIGHT OF THE WITCHES) and Sept 3 1977 (preceding the only screening of SECRET OF THE CHATEAU). CHILLER THEATER was reduced to a single feature in Jan 1979, and cancelled by Jan 1984, but the SHOCK! titles continued uninterrupted in double and triple bills for another five years on the same station, WPXI-TV channel 11. That was lucky for me, as I was able to record all the ones I really wanted, and am kicking myself for not taping every single title available at the time. Saturday nights just haven't been the same since, but those old videos still look great, and all these years later I own all 72 titles in the entire SHOCK! package, although Columbia's THE SOUL OF A MONSTER (1944) was included in the book UNIVERSAL HORRORS! for a total of 73 (I've got that too). I enjoyed watching Lionel Atwill chew the scenery as only he could, but was puzzled as to why he had to take second billing to Una Merkel, since he was top billed over Lon Chaney in MAN MADE MONSTER. He would take second billing after Patrick Knowles later in 1941 in THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX, but that was for a wasted cameo role. Despite his many classic performances, he was clearly on his way down in the studio's eyes, but they did keep him busy right up until his untimely death in 1946. Forrest J. Ackerman described Atwill as "the maddest doctor of them," as lascivious as censors would allow, but this turned out to be his last. John Eldredge was certainly a ubiquitous presence in 1941-42, and Claire Dodd's beauty was enjoying a brief comeback before retiring from the screen less than 2 years later.