The team behind King Kong, director Ernest Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, reassembled seven years later in 1940 to create today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Dr. Cyclops. This is another tale of adventure in a far-off jungle setting, only instead of dinosaurs and king-sized apes, Dr. Cyclops explores the opposite end of the spectrum. It introduces a bald, brainy, but completely mad scientist who has devised a radium-powered beam that can shrink living creatures into Lilliputians. From his laboratory hidden away deep in the Amazonian jungles of Peru, the not-so-good doctor, Thorkel, has progressed from shrinking cats and dogs to trying out his beam on horses. Now, does he dare begin to experiment on human beings?
But, of course he does. His victims — er, subjects — include his servant Pedro, a prospector searching for the radium mine and three fellow scientists who make the mistake of traveling 10,000 miles to answer Dr. Thorkel’s request for a little lab assistance. It’s these scientists who come to dub him “Cyclops,” not only because he towers over them after they’ve been miniaturized, but also because he wears Coke-bottle eyeglasses to compensate for his poor vision.
Dr. Cyclops wasn’t the first film of its kind. That distinction belongs to Devil-Doll, the 1936 melodrama starring Lionel Barrymore as an escaped convict who uses miniaturized people to torment his enemies. Dr. Cyclops also isn’t as action-packed or as philosophically resonant as a movie that came later, 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. Still, Dr. Cyclops is well worth-watching if for no other reason than Albert Dekker’s idiosyncratic portrayal of the mad scientist. He is a most sinister man but also strangely someone who arouses our sympathies.
The film looks like a comic book that’s sprung to life, having been shot in Technicolor, a rarity for sci-fi movies in the 1940s, or the 1950s for that matter. The special effects also are quite good, considering everything is achieved through trick photography –split-screens, matte work and scaled-down sets — as this was made well before the advent of CGI. None of the miniaturized humans face any foe as scary as the spider that battles Grant Williams, playing the diminutive hero of The Incredible Shrinking Man. But they must outwit a gargantuan crocodile, a voraciously hungry cat and a pesky dog, besides the bellicose Dr. Cyclops.
Hope you enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.