SassyFlix | Calling Dr. Death

Calling Dr. Death

  • NR
  • 1943-12-17
  • 01:03:00
7/ 10
20 votes

Film Noir, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Losing his memories of the last few days, neurologist Dr. Steele is told that his wife has been brutally murdered. Steele, aware of his conniving wife's infidelity, believes he may have been the killer and enlists the aid of his pretty nurse Stella to hypnotize him into recovering his lost memories.


Murder and the subconscious...

After the radio mystery show "Inner Sanctum" had been running for two years with huge success, Universal Pictures decided to make a movie out of it - which was itself so successful that it became a movie serial, consisting of six films altogether, all of them starring Lon Chaney Jr. in different roles; just like Richard Dix in the "Whistler" series - only with MUCH more suspense, mystery and a DEFINITE touch of Film Noir, especially this first and enormously impressive entry...

Here, Lon Chaney Jr. plays a successful neurologist who's helping lots of people with severe psychological problems by entering into their subconscious hypnotizing them, and finding the underlying reasons for their diseases - only he can't help HIMSELF: his marriage has been unhappy for years, his beautiful wife has turned away from him, cheating on him with other men, making him feel ridiculous and jealous - and ANGRY... And one day, after another quarrel about her affairs, she is found murdered - while Dr. Steel finds himself in his office the next morning, suffering from amnesia. And while hard-boiled Inspector Gregg starts bothering him immediately, trying to get a confession out of him, Steel himself begins to believe that he's guilty; so the only way to find out the truth (while his wife's boyfriend, who keeps protesting his innocence, is waiting on Death Row for his execution), he thinks, is by having his faithful assistant Stella hypnotize him and record his memories on disk...

There are SO many twists and turns in this REALLY 'noirish', gloomy and fateful story (underlined by surrealistic camera and sound effects) that towards the end, we all feel almost like being under hypnosis ourselves, and no one knows anymore who the real killer is - and those who are realistic enough to guess, just don't want to believe it... But the MOST unbelievable thing is - that a movie of THIS class today seems almost forgotten, and isn't even considered by most people as 'Noir'!! While in comparison to this dark masterpiece full of doomed men, reckless femmes fatales and cynical cops, even some of the greatest and most celebrated Noirs (like, let's say "The Big Sleep", which is full of murders, but also of playful jokes, and does have its cheerful happy ending) look almost like children's films...

Good movie, but it's not just the door that creaks

Warning: Spoilers

"Calling Dr. Death" is a good movie and its DVD release as part of the "Inner Sanctum" series collection is welcome. Lon Chaney, Jr. wasn't as rangy an actor as Universal clearly thought, but the part of a neurologist tortured by the clash between an unfaithful wife and an obsessive nurse, who blacks out and is unable to tell from his own conscious knowledge whether he killed his wife, suits him perfectly. Patricia Morison is also good in her role as the nurse who (here comes the spoiler) actually committed the murder — it's not such a big surprise given that writer Edward Dein only gave us three suspects and it's clear early on that he wasn't going to make Chaney's character the real killer — as is Ramsay Ames as the faithless wife. In some ways this story is what "Rebecca" would have been if Rebecca had actually been shown as an on-screen character, and it's one of the first uses of the gimmick of the innocent man who can't be sure of his own innocence because he was on a binge when the murder occurred. (Films as diverse as "Black Angel" and "The Morning After" have used that plot trope since.) There are points where the plot of this one creaks big-time, but it's a nicely honed, marvelously atmospheric mystery and director Reginald LeBorg (I love that name and can only wish he'd married actress Veda Ann Borg so she could have been Veda Ann Borg LeBorg, though in real life LeBorg was Gay and one of Gay-rights pioneer Harry Hay's lovers, so named in Stuart Timmons' biography of Hay) seems better suited to a suspense thriller like this than an out-and-out horror movie like the pretty awful "Jungle Woman." It's also nice to see J. Carrol Naish as a good guy for a change, a homicide detective whose dogged pursuit of one suspect even as another is charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to death anticipates Peter Falk's TV character of Columbo.

A Psychological Mystery

Calling Dr. Death (1943) is the first of six Inner Sanctum films starring Lon Chaney, Jr. The film is a dark mystery-thriller about a neurologist named Dr. Mark Steel and his cheating wife Maria. Maria has a lover which has upset Dr. Steel. Dr. Steel and his nurse Stella Madden has developed a closeness but refrains themselves from a romance. Maria goes away for the weekend but has been found murdered. The police are investigating while Dr. Steel feels he may have murdered his own wife... the question is did he (Dr. Steel) kill her or was it someone else?

A good watch if you like film-noir, mysteries, and the Universal classic horror films.

A fun movie if you are a Universal horror fan.

the music is very good and a cast with Lon Chaney Patricia Morison J.Carrol Naish makes this a great little b movie. Also Ramsey Ames is Quite stunning as always. These inner sanctum movies are a lot of fun if you are a fan of the thirties and forties Universal horror pictures. The director Reginald Leborg was a skilled director who never got the credit he deserved. The movie has some very interesting camera techniques rarely seen in pictures of this era. Patricia Morison once said that Lon Chaney came up to her and shook her hand and told her that it was an honor to work with her. She was quite touched by this and had a number of nice things to say about Lon in an interview she gave about ten years ago.

terrific little murder mystery

it may be an old movie,but i liked's a very interesting,well acted murder mystery.the dialogue was quite good,the writing was good and the music adds a real atmosphere of creepiness to the proceedings.there's' not a lot of's more of a psychological character study.and for me,unt9il near the very end,i wasn't sure who the murderer was.Lon Chaney Jr. is the main star.he plays a neurologist/hypnotist who ends up being accused of his wife's murder.the thing about it is,he can't remember the last couple of days,including the day his wife was least that's what he says.this is part of the Universal Pictures Inner Sanctum Mysteries movie collection.basically,an anthology series along the lines of Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.anyway,i thoroughly enjoyed this movie,and if you are a Lon Chaney,you might want to check out not only this movie,but the box set collection(five other movies)all starring Chaney.i give Calling Dr. Death a solid 8/10

A neurologist suffers a break down.

Warning: Spoilers

Lon Chaney Jr is called Dr. Death. This is the initial mystery from Universal's "Inner Sanctum" series. Doctor Steele (Chaney Jr.) is a well known neurologist plagued by a beautiful, but unfaithful wife (Ramsay Ames). Despondent dealing with the thought of his conniving wife, Steele blacks out and loses track of time; upon returning home, he is met by Inspector Gregg (J. Carrol Naish), who advises him of the murder of his wife. The doctor is browbeaten in search of a confession. Steele is almost convinced that he did kill his cheating wife. The doc's attractive nurse, Stella (Patricia Morison), in her loyalty tries to prove her boss is innocent.

This Film-Noir thriller is directed by Reginald Le Borg. Atmospheric and well acted. Other players include: David Bruce, George Eldredge, Holmes Herbert, Fay Helm and Charles Wagenheim.

Calling Dr. Death

Warning: Spoilers

An eminent neurologist, whose psyche is starting to fracture because of his bad marriage, is starting to unravel as his no-good wife continues to harass him, flaunting her adultery and basically challenging Dr. Steele to do something about it (she taunts his inability to free himself from her, not knowing what could possibly result as he contemplates in his tormented mind the idea of murdering her). When her body is found in Steele's hunting lodge, her face destroyed by acid, could the doctor be responsible? Even worse, Dr. Steele was found by his assistant, Stella, in his office, suffering amnesia, unable to determine his whereabouts during the weekend his wife was murdered. Duval, Maria's lover, is the one arrested for the crime because he was there near the time of the murder, had a quarrel with her over leaving Steele, and seems like as good a candidate as any to kill the woman who could not abandon the position and social standing attributing to a life of luxury and prominence which comes from being married to a prestigious neurologist. Sentenced to the electric chair in court by circumstantial evidence, Duval seems doomed to die for a crime he didn't commit as Steele tries to unlock the mystery of his *lost weekend*. Talking to Duval, Steele is convinced he's hiding something—but what?

An Inner Sanctum Mystery starring Lon Chaney Jr who, at this time in his career, continued to mine the sad pathos of Lawrence Talbot with characters like his Doc Steele, a wrongfully mistreated innocent, caught in a trap, seeking to escape. Maybe Steele isn't suffering from lycanthropy, but he's unsure of what took place for two days, having a hard time living with the thought that someone is possibly sentenced to death for a crime he might have actually committed, needing to reveal the concealed truth behind what actually happened and why. Of course, with any mystery, revelations regarding the true character of certain individuals emerge: Duval isn't a saint by any imagination and nurse Stella (the stunning Patricia Morison) may not be an angel Steele believes her to be. J. Carrol Naish is wonderful as Inspector Gregg, the detective on the case who seems convinced that Steele is behind the murder of his wife and often muses about his feelings to the doctor, a cynical air about him which seems to hit a nerve on every occasion they meet. My favorite scenes are between the uncomfortable Chaney and confident Naish, the insinuations and accusations freely offered by the cop to the man he considers (we think) the likely killer. Hypnosis is a device used in the plot to unearth the sinister details (Steele uses hypnosis as a technique to help his patients acknowledge what it is that has caused them such psychological crisis) behind Maria's violent death, explaining the unusual explosion in Steele's office (acid was used here as well) which led to certain important files in a cabinet being burned, and how a gambling debt, along with thousands of dollars taken from the doctor by his wife, was the culprit behind everything. Fay Helm, despite maybe one real scene, leaves quite an impression, as a nasty bitch who laughs in Chaney's face, mocking him, earning our immediate disgust because she has no qualms against torturing her devoted husband. Morison (the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes film, "Dressed to Kill" may be her most memorable role), I would have loved to see Universal use in more Gothic horror movies; not sure why she wasn't. I must admit that I found the disembodied head in the crystal ball setting up these Inner Sanctum Mysteries to be a bit tacky, but it has a charm that goes with that particular era in horror. Most of the film has Chaney, whispering in voice-over, explaining Dr. Steele's thoughts to us.

Pretty Good Start To The "Inner Sanctum" Film Series

The first of the "Inner Sanctum" series of six films based on a popular radio show at the time. This is a well made, atmospheric almost film noir murder mystery. Good performances from Lon Chaney Jnr and J Carroll Naish , here cast in a good guy role. It's rather easy to guess who the guilty party is, but that's beside the point, this is a well made little film.

Calling Dr. Death

Funny but not intended to be, still this is a plus to me because it makes the movie more entertaining.

Not scary...... like not at all scary not even one bit..... so if you want scary look elsewhere.

Good acting.

Good writing.

Another decent installment of the Inner Sanctum series

In the 1940s, Universal Studios made a short series of films dubbed "The Inner Sanctum" movies. They all apparently starred Lon Chaney, Jr. and were B-movies. In other words, they were lower budget and ran at only a little over one hour, as they were intended to be the second (and lesser) film during a double-feature. In general, Bs were not great films, though compared to other films of the style, Inner Sanctum films are definitely a notch above the rest.

In this installment, Chaney plays a Neurosurgeon who also does hypnosis (an odd combination by the way). He seems like a nice guy and you have to feel sorry for him since he's apparently married a horrible woman who treats him like dirt. When this lady is killed, you'd think that would be the end of his problems, however, police think he might be the killer and Chaney isn't sure himself since his memories of that weekend are missing! Using hypnosis, he gets to the heart of the problem.

By the way, the hypnotic portions of the film were wrong in that hypnosis works very little like they showed it. However, as most people watching the film are NOT trained hypnotists (I am), they really won't notice or care that this aspect of the movie is mostly mumbo-jumbo. Aside from that, the acting, writing and direction are all pretty good--and the film is a nice diverting little mystery.

By the way, this film is one of six that have been released on DVD--with three episodes on each DVD. This is from Disk 1 and also includes DEAD MAN'S EYES and WEIRD WOMAN--both of which are of comparable quality. I strongly recommend you see the series and if you like it, also try Columbia Pictures' WHISTLER series--as it's very similar in style.