The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) A magnificent specimen of pure viciousness & pure scientific research… by a magnificent Screwball

THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (1938)

Dr. T.S Clitterhouse-“Crime and research.”

Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse-“The greatest crime of all!” ‘Rocks’ Valentine-“What’s that?” Dr. T.S.Clitterhouse“Why, Homicide naturally.”

Directed by Anatole Litvak (The Sisters 1938, Confessions of a Nazi Spy 1939, Out of the Fog 1941, Blues in the Night 1941, Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, The Night of the Generals 1967) With a screenplay co-written by John Huston and John Huxley. Based on the play by Barré Lyndon – Music by Max Steiner who lends a dark and dramatic flourish to the sinister & mordant essence of the narrative.

Cinematography by Tony Gaudio (The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, Lady Killer 1933, The Man With Two Faces 1934, Bordertown 1935, The Story of Louis Pasteur 1936, The Life of Emile Zola 1937, The Sisters 1938, Brother Orchid 1940, The Letter 1940, High Sierra 1941, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942, Larceny, Inc. 1942, Experiment Perilous 1944, Love From a Stranger 1947)

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse converges into several genres–black comedy with deadly dark overtones, crime drama, the gangster movie, suspense & psychological noir with classical horror elements evidenced by the duality of the schizophrenic hero.

Though absurd it’s an enjoyable Litvak’s direction, Huston’s screenplay and Gaudio’s arousing photography make it an enjoyable film to watch.

While watching Litvak’s film again, it suddenly hit me (smack between my green eyes) there is one significant trope that stood out so obvious, so clearly to me. Strange that I hadn’t realized it during my first viewing.

Dr. Clitterhouse is an archetypal Jekyll & Hyde figure, using his immersion into criminal activity rather than a smoky elixir to drink down his uneasy gullet, that would normally transform his outer appearance into a fiend, Clitterhouse still becomes transfigured as a criminal and a murderer by and because of his endeavors.

Edward G. Robinson as Pete Morgan in The Red House (1947) directed by Delmer Daves.

The story raises the question of the duality inherent in the protagonist J.T. Clitterhouse, where it is possible to tap into the dark side, the doctor diverges into a classical medical/science horror with personality traits being tainted by the evil/immoral tendencies that people are capable of. When exploring immoral activities that can ‘change a man’s personality’ there is always a fatalistic inevitability. The disambiguation of the situation-there are no horror props, no mysterious mad scientifically developed drug inducement– it is the single act, desire and curiosity of a scientist seeking answers concerning the criminal mind that literally subsumes the nature of the personality examining the questions. i.e. Dr. Clitterhouse becomes not a monster, but a criminal and ultimately a murderer.

Clitterhouse is seduced by the excitement he experiences, and embraces the darker side of himself without the use of a scientific ‘horror’ concoction. While presented as a gangster film, its conceptualization of medical/science experimentation on vicious human nature, aberrations in psychology and the criminal mind elucidates the clear philosophical themes of classical medical-science horror.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) written by Barré Lyndon stars Edward G. Robinson as a phony mentalist haunted by greed and a sense of impending doom. Co-stars Gail Russell and John Lund.

Film genres’ lines were often blurred in the 1930s & 1940s, in particular a few of Edward G. Robsinson and Humphrey Bogart’s films which intersected with crime, noir and horror narratives. In particular director Delmer Daves frightening The Red House (1947) and director Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 starring Edward G. Robinson.

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Re-Occuring Iconography in Classic Noir, Suspense & Horror: Stairs…

Battleship Potemkin 1925- Sergei Eisenstein known for his montage framing and editing offers up the epic dramatization of social uprising in Russia, which brought about a grim massacre with an iconic scene of the baby carriage plummeting down the great stone steps.
Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt) ascends the abstraction of a stairway to nowhere…in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
F.W.Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece of shadow and light. With subtle prominence, the silhouette of the stair rails makes cogent the sinister outline of Max Schreck’s Nosferatu all the more.
Alfred Hitchcock’s crime thriller Blackmail (1929)
She 1935 Irving Pichel and Lansing C Holden’s fantastical saga based on H. Rider Haggard’s novel about an ancient esoteric civilization reigned over by the cruel high priestess She who must be obeyed, upon the steps by the secret eternal flame of everlasting youth! with an intoxicating score by Max Steiner
Again from 1935s SHE released in both B&W and a gorgeous colorized version. I’ll be doing a larger overview of the film very soon. Using images from both.
Steps upon steps, leading to divinity, or leading to death?
Thorold Dickinson’s hauntingly sinister fable- The Queen of Spades 1949- See the intricate network of elaborate stairs that wind within the vast manor house, which lead to the infamous lady who bet her soul away to the devil in order to win at a game of cards.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) Cary Grant carries Ingrid Bergman to safety down the moonlit stone steps.
Notorious (1946) Claude Rains stands alone facing his fate up those moonlit stone steps…the end scene.

MORE TO COME!!!!!!!

I’ll be heading back up the ‘steps’ here at the drive-in, be well- MonsterGirl!