The Mysterious Doctor (1943)


USA. 1943.


Director – Ben Stoloff, Screenplay – Richard Weil, Photography (b&w) – Henry Sharp, Makeup – Perc Westmore, Art Direction – Charles Novi. Production Company – Warner Bros/First National


Eleanor Parker (Letty Carstairs), Bruce Lester (Christopher Hilton), Lester Matthews (Dr Frederick Holmes), Matt Wills (Bart Redmond), John Loder (Sir Henry Leland), Frank Mayo (Simon Tewksbury), Forrester Harvey (Hugh Penryn), Phyllis Barry (Ruby), David Clyde (Tom Andrews)


Dr Frederick Holmes arrives in the remote town of Morgan’s Head in the middle of the night, claiming to be on a walking tour of the English moors. There is suspicion that he may be a Nazi parachutist. Holmes goes to investigate the local Wickham Mine, which has been closed down and is reputedly haunted by the headless ghost of Black Morgan, from whom the town derives its name, but he fails to return. The frightened villagers suspect the intellectually handicapped Bart Redmond but the real reason may lie with a Nazi fifth column plot.

The Mysterious Doctor was one of the B movies of its era. And with just reason it has attained little attention in either genre press or historical guides.

It starts out very well. Director Ben Stoloff achieves a particularly eerie chill with a headless man seemingly stalking across foggy moors, a traveler arriving at the inn to find the door answered by a man in an executioner’s mask, stories of haunted mines where the locals won’t go, and the revelation the traveller might be a Nazi spy. Stoloff generates a dread atmosphere that seems to be taking place in the dead chill of night.

Alas, after such a promising opening, all the haunted atmosphere drops off and the film becomes a routine smalltown murder mystery of little interest. The horror elements disappear altogether – the headless ghost, when it appears, is thoroughly unconvincing. As fitting with the horror films of the era, the film seems almost afraid of the supernatural elements and what initially appears such eventually transpires to be of ridiculously contrived mundane explanation involving Nazi fifth column plots and people hiding in masks and headless ghost costumes. The film was made during the Second World War and improbably ends with the bigoted locals marching off to join the War effort singing of England, while the heroine is given to comment “What price Hitler!”

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