The Strange Case

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX, with its strange title, might never have crossed my path had I not been inspired to track it down as part of my lunatic quest to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a compendium of horror movie lore that served as a combination of holy writ and porn-stash when I was about ten years old (monsters are the equivalent of porn for ten-year-olds, right?). This mission of madness, known as “See Reptilicus and Die” has caused me to peruse some screwy movies in the last couple of years, and if RX doesn’t take the cake, it at least might be said to hoover up the crumbs.

Really this is a comedy thriller, high on jinks and low on both scares and production values. Patric Knowles and Anne Gwynne are bickering investigators, he a private eye and she a crime writer whose research has a history of getting her into scrapes. It feels like this duo were intended to run into a whole series, and to try and get things off on a good footing screenwriter Clarence Upson Young equips them with enough backstory for twenty films (some of which sound more fun than this one). CUY wrote the similarly lightweight THE GHOST THAT WALKS ALONE and NIGHT MONSTER, but his most exciting credit is LOVE, HONOR AND OH BABY! — a title which made me laugh for about a minute, though I have no particular interest in ever seeing the picture, which does not appear in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Our intrepid couple are investigating a killer who apparently strangles criminals who have escaped justice thanks to the machinations of a slick defense lawyer. All the bodies are marked with a calling card, signed “Dr. RX” — meanwhile Lionel Atwill is at large, as Dr. Fish, looking very suspicious in pebble glasses and leer. Walking racial insult Mantan Moreland is also on hand as Knowles’s man, and at the movie’s climax has to help the hero face not only the mad doctor, but also Nbongo the gorilla, inevitably played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who in his long career in furs also played great apes named Naba, Bonga, Nabonga, Pongo and Willie. You can see why he wasn’t called Ray “Versatility” Corrigan.

The film is chiefly interesting for its sheer silliness, which sometimes disrupts the narrative to a disturbing degree (when you find time for a bit for Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges, that’s likely to be the result) — the end shot, of Mantan Moreland, his hair turned prematurely white, laughing insanely, is sufficiently upsetting to have probably guaranteed that Private Detective Jerry Church and his sparky wife never returned for another adventure.

Like a negative image of Rodney Dangerfield.

16 Responses to “The Strange Case”

  1. Next stp: Spider Baby !

  2. jason hyde Says:

    I actually kinda like Mantan Moreland, I have to admit. He’s often genuinely funny, which isn’t something I’d willingly say about Stepin Fetchit’s shuffling, mumbling routine (or at least what I’ve seen of it, which basically amounts to Charlie Chan in Egypt) or Willie Best (billed unbeiievably as Sleep n’ Eat) wondering aloud about his possible kinship with a chimp in The Monster Walks. Compared to that, Mantan’s a model of dignity and restraint. And he brought at least some spark of energy to some otherwise dreary Monogram films.

    Never seen Strange Case of Dr. RX, despite my longstanding interest in everything Lionel Atwill appeared in. And if you think Ray Corrigan’s filmography is something, get a load of Charles Gemora’s:

    ‘Ethel the chimp’ is easily the most tantalizing credit in there.

  3. Corrigan also played the title role in “Nabonga” two years later, which I thought might be a sequel until I noticed that (a) it’s a different studio and (b) the different final vowel. The later film was also Julie London’s first screen appearance. That was how I’d heard about it.

    IMDb’s “memorable quotes” includes the following …

    Buster Crabbe: What’s your father’s name?
    Julie London: His name is Father.

  4. Edited highlights of CG’s career —
    Sultan, The Gorilla
    Plato The Gorilla
    Sir Charles, the Gorilla
    Erik, the Gorilla
    Jocko the Boxing Gorilla
    Zozo – the Gorilla
    More variety than in Crash’s!
    There appears to be one film where the credit reads “Sir Charles Gemora as The Gorilla.”

    I quite like MM’s playing, but the films do degrade him pretty badly. His white-haired ending here comes after a scene in which we’re meant to be moved by the plight of a detective whose hair turned white and he lost his reason after meeting the evil RX. So, with a white guy, it’s tragic, but with Mantan it’s supposed to be hilarious. Creepy.

  5. Nabonga is pretty bad, although I like that the Jungle Queen is called Doreen. I get the impression that “Crash” pushed variations of the Nabonga name on his producers. And who’s going to argue with a gorilla?

  6. Mantan impressed me the way Sturges used him in The Palm Beach Story (the Prairie Oyster joke). There were a couple of Monograms where he was funny but not being too degraded. Willie Best was also (though more rarely) able to keep some dignity. Fetchit I haven’t seen enough of. He seemed to spend more time at Fox, so I didn’t get to see much of him. I like Eddie Anderson, but he got to be Jack Benny’s foil and was always rather sarcastic about Benny on the sitcoms I remember.

  7. Eddie Anderson is great. Sometimes the material is a little painful, but he’s genuinely gifted and he never played it “slow”.

    I also like Clarence Muse, who only does embarrassing stuff in the Capra films he’s in. Val Lewton gives him a good role in Apache Drums.

  8. Christopher Says:

    what a delight to click on Shadowplay and see a big ol’ poverty row Pongo!….I always enjoyed Corrigan in the 3 Mesquiteers b-western series with or without John Wayne..and the later Range Busters series..

  9. Didn’t Crash Corrigan also play the title role in It! The Terror from Beyond Space! ?

  10. His final role! For a C-list actor, he played quite a few title parts.

  11. jason hyde Says:

    Clarence Muse plays a stereotype scared servant part with a lot of dignity in The Invisible Ghost. He’s got some moments in that one that would be pretty cringe-worthy if not for the fact that he plays them so matter-of-fact and not ‘funny’ that they are actually pretty funny. Invisible Ghost is pretty interesting all around. For a Monogram cheapie, it’s pretty well shot and composed (Joseph H. Lewis directed), but it’s so carelessly written that it nearly qualifies as surrealist. Fairly subtle and sympathetic Lugosi performance, too, and it’s a treat to hear him say things like ‘Apple pie? My, that vill be a treat!’.

  12. Didn’t seem THAT wise…

    Nabonga really is too dull even to be camp.

  13. I LOVE The Invis Ghost, Lewis really pulls it together, despite the shocking script. I’m not quite sure how he mustered the enthusiasm, since he was quite capable of sleepwalking through an unpromising assignment. But he’s really on fire here.

  14. John Seal Says:

    Another vote in favour of Mantan Moreland. Considering everything working against him, he always acquitted himself well (certainly in comparison to other African-American bit players of the time, such as Stepin Fetchit and Willie Best), but most importantly he was genuinely funny. Three cheers for Mantan!

  15. Christopher Says:

    fun Lugosi clip…that monogram studio orchestra really rocks little stock music borrowed from Grand National..

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