OOM #4 – Dr. Cyclops (1940)

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We continue with the madness!

The promise is wonderful, a color film by the director of ‘King Kong’ (1933) that uses retro-projection to posit a world in which miniaturization is possible through radiation, hence the wonderful possibilities, much like those present in the classic 1933 film, but without the need of other special effects like stop motion, as one could use every day animals to capture that sense of wonder, and in spectacular Technicolor to beat! And it’s exactly what it says in the package, it’s a film with scenes of pseudo-science put together that brings forward the world in which the miniaturization of living beings is possible, and so we come upon the small horses and the centerpiece: small humans, all under the scrutinizing eyes of a Doctor in Biology who thinks he’s doing the “right thing”, but actually he’s terrorizing those under his will so he can fulfill his supposed science-driven mission.

The film is one of the most good-looking horror sci-fi films of the 1940s, with shades of green, red and brown that pop out, specially when it comes to the sequences that feature the radioactive element that is used to do the minimizing process, a green ray that flashes and turns everything around it a shade of the same color. Then along comes the retro-projection, which in color might seem more noticeable, but still is the best special effect that I can think of for an era like this, where the wonder of cinema projection itself becomes part of the effect, where people didn’t act in front of a screen with just one color, but they acted with the grandiosity of cinema itself, so we have the minimized doctor helpers performing in front of the real performance done by Albert Dekker as Dr. Thorkel, they see it, they feel his presence, gigantic in front of their eyes, as they shield themselves or defend their bodies against his prodding.

The movie is just as good as it can be with the premise it has and the production system that surrounded it, as it’s the perfect example of a sci-fi horror with the usual acting failings, the expected splices and the weaknesses of the dialogue. All of that hurts the overall enjoyment, as the film stalls when it focuses on the miniaturized people by themselves instead of their fight against the Doctor, which is when the film becomes more alive (and they talk less). There are a couple of masterful shots, like when one of the miniaturized men gets smothered by a small piece of cloth held by the Doctor, or the incredibly corny line “now I’m a Cyclops, because I only have one good eye”. It’s what it is, and what it is, should be enough.

7/10

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