Post-King Kong, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper kept their love for adventure and thrills moving. Their films are iconic though many are ignored, such as Mighty Joe Young and this 1940 Technicolor sci-fi adventure Dr. Cyclops. While bettered in 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, Dr. Cyclops still carries enough weight to make it a watchable, if below average, effort.
Set in Peru (though mostly captured on sound stages), a group of scientists sets out to meet Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker). In a small hut, the classic mad scientist role plays out as his experiments slowly drive him mad unbeknownst to his requested guests. For whatever reason, completely unknown to anyone but himself, Thorkel is determined to shrink humans down to a minuscule size using radium.
The latter plot hole is one of many problems for Dr. Cyclops. Unlike other Schoedsack/Cooper efforts, this one has little excitement. It takes a substantial amount of time for the plot to come full, and it’s over halfway through before the human subjects are shrunk. They do so off-screen, but the after-effects are impressive. Enlarged sets are indistinguishable from the real counterparts, and the amount of split screen use is incredible for a 1940 film (especially in color).
Odd choices destroy any tension or built up atmosphere. As the shrunken humans try desperately to escape, Thorkel falls asleep. They manage to stack books and open a door to finally make it outside. When Thorkel awakes, there are his unwilling human subjects on a picnic table making clothes and shoes as if they’ve been there for months. Why bother even escaping?
A few fast-paced action sequences are noteworthy, and the survival tactics by the experiments are fun. Sadly, many come down to Thorkel wrecking his home to find his subjects as they run around the room to avoid his grasp. Even at 76 minutes, the film is repetitive.
The ending also leaves unanswered questions. The experiment performed doesn’t stay permanent. Before the credits role, everyone is back to normal and agrees to keep their experience a secret for fear of being ridiculed. However, one key world renowned scientist they brought with them was killed by Thorkel. Wouldn’t anyone question what happened to him?
The Osacar-nominated special effects are a remarkable sight here, and fans of the tireless King Kong duo have an offbeat piece of entertainment to watch. Moody lighting and Technicolor presentation can’t save this from being sub par. Stick with The Incredible Shrinking Man, filled with fantastic action that tries to make its audience think.
The print used here has significant damage, though it’s acceptable given its age. The color has been preserved here beautifully, offsetting the specks and scrapes throughout. Colors are also consistent throughout, without any fading or discoloration from scene to scene. The DVD transfer is clean with no noticeable compression artifacts.
Sound is standard 2.0 mono. It has trouble handling the higher pitches of the Gerard Carbonara soundtrack. It fluctuates in volume, giving it an unintentional shaky feel. Dialogue is crisp, or as detailed as it can be given the circumstances.
Extras include the original trailer and nothing more.
Dr. Cyclops is available at Best Buy in an exclusive five-movie set. The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volume 2 houses Universal classics in a sharp, fold-out case. While none of the films have any notable extras, the presentations are wonderful.