Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Retro review: The Crime of Doctor Hallet (1938) rare Universal drama

Out in the Sumatran Jungle, Doctor Paul Hallet (Ralph Bellamy) and his chemist assistant, Jack Murray (William Gargan) are working to try and find a cure for red fever. They are sent a new assistant, Park Avenue Doctor Philip Saunders (John King) by their US sponsors, and Hallet takes a dislike to him (an off hand comment about where they studied seals his contempt), putting him to work cleaning test tubes and looking after cleaning up the test monkeys. When one of the baby monkeys accidentally cuts its self and drips blood on a slide containing live culture, Saunders finds that it's blood kills the disease cells. Hallet is not interested in anything he says, so Saunders conducts his own experiments while Hallet and Murray continue theirs.

After his test monkeys respond well to his serum, Saunders rushes to tell Hallet, only to find that he has found his own cure. Bowing to Hallet's expertise he keeps his mouth shut at his own discovery and, wanting to have some kind of involvement in the breakthrough subjects himself to the red fever virus, so Hallet can use his serum to cure him. As Saunders lies in a delirious state, and Hallet's test monkeys have died, he tells him of his own findings, and points him in the direction of his notes. Saunders dies, and to make matters worse for Hallet, the funding for the research has been pulled, and they are ordered to come home.

Dejected, and feeling guilty about Saunders' death, he reads his notes, believes his serum could work, and finds $4,000 in traveller's cheques. He decides to pose as Saunders, and announce the death of Doctor Hallet, and uses the money to carry on and vows to credit Saunders for any discovery.
Things become complicated when a new assistant, the beautiful Dr Mary Reynolds (Josephine Hutchinson) is sent along and believes Hallet to be Saunders, but like the real Saunders when he arrived, Hallet has little time for the new assistant.

Meanwhile, Saunders' wife (Barbara Read), a socialite with only her own intentions in mind is considering divorcing him, until she reads that his discovery could earn him a Nobel prize. Smelling money and fame, she decides to give the (dead remember) doctor another chance, and hops on a plane to the island.
Claire arrives, and the secret and deception are out of the bag. Will she do as she threatens and prosecute Hallet for Saunders' murder and forgery of the traveller's cheques or will the sudden attack of red fever save Hallet's neck?

A rare drama from Universal Studios, made just before the second wave of their classic monsters series, and starring some great names who would go on and appear in them. Bellamy, of course is the most famous and would later have parts in The Wolf Man (1941) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) as well as the classic screwball comedy, His Girl Friday (1940) and was still working up until his death in 1991, with a great turn in Trading Places (1983). Hutchinson appeared as Elsa von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Barbara Read had been in another great Universal B-movie mystery, The Man Who Cried Wolf (1937).
While there are no real horror elements, and for his faults, Hallet's intentions are all for the best, the drama is still good enough to keep you interested, and at about 65mins it doesn't drag. 6 out of 10

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