Review: Joseph H. Lewis’ “The Mad Doctor of Market Street,” Starring Lionel Atwill

Lionel Atwill accosted by two natives in “The Mad Doctor of Market Street
Lionel Atwill accosted by two natives in “The Mad Doctor of Market Street"

After his successful turn as a mad scientist in 1941’s Man Made Monster, Universal created a follow-up for star Lionel Atwill, The Mad Doctor of Market Street. Rather than being a straight horror story, however, the film includes a romantic subplot, comic relief characters, and other elements that make it feel like a confused B movie. Is it Frankenstein or is it Abbott and Costello’s One Night in the Tropics? Somehow, it’s both.

The titular street is located in San Francisco, where Dr. Ralph Benson (Atwill) secretly experiments with suspended animation. When his first test on a human leads to the man’s death, Benson goes on the run from the police; during the manhunt, a radio host dubs him “the mad doctor of Market Street.” Benson shaves his beard to avoid being recognized and slips away on a cruise, only to end up shipwrecked on an island with a few other passengers. When he saves the life of an indigenous woman, the stereotypically impressionable natives hail him as a god, and he is able to continue his experiments there until his power begins to go to his head.

Director Joseph H. Lewis later thrived in the film noir movement with movies like Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, but given a low budget and less than three weeks to shoot, there was only so much he could do with this genre mishmash. The shipwreck sequence is exciting, but feels significantly more expensive than the cramped sets and awkward transitions between scenes on the island, as if most of the budget was spent before those were shot.

The main attraction is Atwill, who, like Lewis, does the best he can with limited material. He gives the “mad doctor” a sense of dignity that sets him apart from the more traditional mad-scientist-type he easily could be played as. A more interesting movie might have tapped into that subversion more, but running just sixty-one minutes, The Mad Doctor of Market Street barely has time to do much more than power through its episodic, haphazard plot.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on The Mad Doctor of Market Street

Read the review in The New York Times

Watch the Trailer