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Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies -1939: Dr. Cyclops

Updated on April 30, 2009

 What does the ambiguous Dr. Thorkel (Albert Dekker) hide in his laboratory in the middle of the Peruvian jungle? The colleagues which he has invited to cooperate with him, and who are certainly riddled with doubts as to the Doctor's experiments, will soon discover that the scientist has found a way of shrinking living beings down to about one fifth of their original size with the help of the radium found in the area. However, overwhelmed by ambition, Dr. Thorkel would soon use his invention for extremely ignoble purposes, and his colleagues who are strongly opposed to his projects, are reduced to tiny size and left at the mercy of his savage animals.

But in the end the scientists, despite their size, manage to organize themselves and by exploiting the only weak point of what in their eyes has become a being gigantic being are able to defeat him, mostly due to his poor vision: Thus they call him Dr. Cyclops. The tiny scientists manage to deprive Torkel of his eyeglasses and he falls into a well as his victims, in time, regain normal size. The scientific invention of Dr. Thorkel / Cyclops luckily had only a temporary effect.

What is extremely surprising in this film, is the elevated and advanced quality of the special effects: the scenes where you see the lilliputian scientists in the presence of their fellow Gulliverian giant, are truly impressive. But of course the film also offers something else: the basic plot is very original, and the motion picture certainly does not lack tension, despite the essential unlikelihood of the basic story premise and a tendency not to take itself far too seriously. In fact a slight tendency to humor, from time to time, actually assists to accentuate the drama of the situation.

Unfortunately the protagonist is not overly well characterized. Although it seems that Dr. Thorkel / Cyclops is the usual and stereotypical mad scientist, it is not clear is whether he has been insane from the beginning or if he was driven to lunacy by his experiments. Unfortunately these uncertainties were not unusual at the time when science fiction was not yet a generally well defined genre. If nothing else, this is a film that truly grasps the audience and although it is riddled with inconsistencies, creates an aura where the audience will forgive almost anything. Yes, it is very easy by our 21st century standpoint to look back at these pre-War motion pictures and criticize them for their poor special effects, or to question how anyone could have been so naive as to actually consider these movies to be science fiction, but the bottom line remains that these movies are not only fine works of art but invaluable stepping stones in the history of cinema which have laid the foundation for the films we enjoy in the present day.

1939: Dr. Cyclops

Directed by
Ernest B. Schoedsack
 
Screenwriting by
Tom Kilpatrick (for the original screenplay)
Malcolm Stuart Boylan (not shown in the credits)

Cast 
 Dr. Alexander Thorkel - Albert Dekker
 Bill Stockton - Thomas Coley
 Dr. Mary Robinson - Janice Logan
 Dr. Rupert Bulfinch - Charles Halton
 Steve Baker - Victor Kilian
 Pedro - Frank Yaconelli
 Dr. Mendoza - Paul Fix
 Professor Kendall - Frank Reicher

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