Sometimes movies pose tantalizing questions, such as: Is the main character off his rocker?
Hamlet is a famous example of a character with ambiguous mental health; so is another lesser-known figure, Dr. Clitterhouse.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) is a black comedy about a successful medical doctor (Edward G. Robinson) who becomes fascinated by what he calls “the Criminal Mind”. He desires to write a book examining the physiological characteristics of criminal brains, and he’s convinced this research will help law enforcement agents battle crime.
The only way he can do this, he reasons, is to become a criminal himself so he can measure his physiological responses (e.g. blood pressure, pupil dilation, etc.) after committing a crime.
Fortunately for Robinson, he falls in with a gang headed by criminal power couple Humphrey Bogart and Claire Trevor. Their gang specializes in stealing and liquidating stolen goods.
Robinson couldn’t be happier in this new secret life as a gangster – er, we mean his new life as a “scientific researcher”. He continually monitors gang members’ vital signs before and after they stage robberies, and carefully records this data in a thick book for future analysis.
Unfortunately for Robinson, a disgruntled Bogart distrusts his motives, and refuses to participate in the testing. He also doesn’t like Trevor’s growing attraction to Robinson. (What? You didn’t think Edward G. Robinson was a ladies’ man? Get outta here! Dames fall for him all the time.)
A showdown between Bogart and Robinson is inevitable – and it coincides with Robinson’s realization that, in order to have perfect insight into the Criminal Mind, he needs to commit the ultimate crime: Murder.
Robinson’s mental state is the central question in this film. Is he misguided in his pursuit of science? Is he fulfilling secret criminal fantasies? Or is he plain wacko?
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was originally a short story by British playwright Barré Lyndon before it was adapted as a stage play that ran in both London and New York.
We (as in, yours truly) are very fussy when it comes to transferring plays to the screen. We find there is a tendency for scenes to drag and the dialogue to become onerous. But this is not the case with Dr. Clitterhouse.
Director Anatole Litvak and screenwriters John Wexley and John Huston have created a near-perfect screen adaptation. For instance, in one scene, there is a robbery at a fur coat manufacturer which is as tense as anything you’ve seen in a film noir. As this scene unfolds, you’ll find yourself holding your breath. Guaranteed.
The movie is also perfectly cast, with Bogart as the sneering, sarcastic hoodlum, and Trevor as the ambitious criminal businesswoman. And there is Robinson, a mercurial character who purposely allows us to read into his motives whatever we choose.
This is one of those rare films that lends itself to intense philosophical discussion. What is the role of science in our society? How far should scientists go verify controversial hypotheses?
If you’re keen to see Edward G. Robinson as a lunatic-but-maybe-not-a-lunatic, we recommend The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. This movie will keep you guessing until the end – and even then you may not be sure.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse: Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Hymphrey Bogart. Directed by Anatole Litvak. Written by John Wexley and John Huston. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1938, B&W, 87 mins.
Ruth, I’m delighted that you’re showcasing THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE, as it was one of the movies my older brother showed me when I was a youngster and just learning about Edward G. Robinson, as well as classic movies in general! Trevor was swell, too, as well as Humphrey Bogart when he was just becoming to be a great heavy who was soon to become a full-tilt superstar and Hollywood icon. BRAVA to you for bringing this to Silver Screening, my friend, and have a wonderful weekend! 😀
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Dor! I can see why this film would hold a special place in your heart. Showing EGR/classic films to a younger sibling is a wonderful thing for an older brother to do. Have a great weekend!
Thanks for a great review of a movie for which I’ve always had a very large soft spot.
Hm. I’m not sure I’ve ever been tempted to indulge in “intense philosophical discussion” after watching it, though! 🙂
What?! You don’t get into discussions re: scientific ethics after watching this movie?? You’re watching it for the reason it was intended? (My poor husband has learned to expect these kinds of conversations at any time & without warning.)
My poor husband has learned to expect these kinds of conversations at any time & without warning.
Well, so has my poor wife. But she knows this is one of those movies where she need not fear too many discussions of the subtext.
Here’s to fabulous spouses! *clink*
same cast was in “key Largo” directed by John Huston in 1948
Yes – and that was another terrific film, wasn’t it? Love the onscreen chemistry between Bogart and Robinson.
Sounds like an interesting movie, Ruth! I’m all for philosophical discussions after a movie. Fortunately, my husband doesn’t mind those either. I will have to watch this one to see if I think Robinson is “off his rocker”or not. I’m thinking he probably is! Thanks for a great review.
This movie had me guessing – when I wasn’t caught up in the drama of the criminal activities. I hope you get the chance to see it – it’s a clever film that’s not well known.
I am a big fan of Edward G robinson but don’t recall seeing this film. I must have if, for no other reason, to see he and Bogart on the screen together. This is when I miss the movie theaters once played the old films on a regular basis. Speaking of missing things, i am so sorry that I’ve been away for so long, Ruth. I’m way behind with my blogging and just realized that I’ve not been getting notifications for your posts. You’re not alone, for there are others I’m still missing. Thanks for sticking with me and I’ll try unsubscribing and subscribing to your blog with hopes that it will correct things.
Mystery solved. I went to my WP Reader, found your blog, and the settings have been changed to refuse emails from you. Worse yet, after a cursory check, there were other blogs affected, too. Well, at least I’ve gotten to the bottom of it and I hope this settles it, once and for all.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This Edward G. film is one of his lesser-known roles, which is a shame. He is superb in as this character – and I agree that his onscreen chemistry with Bogie is superb. They really play well off each other in this one. I hope you get a chance to see it.
On a side note, it’s great to see you back in the blogosphere! I know you’re a busy blogger, and it’s always a treat to see you in the “neighbourhood”. 🙂