When I was a kid, Forry Ackerman used to run stills from DR. CYCLOPS (1940) on a fairly regular basis in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine. I was fascinated by the b&w photos which depicted several very small people being menaced by the bespectacled and bald-headed giant Dr. Cyclops (Albert Dekker). Reading the captions and accompanying text clued me in to the fact that the little people were in fact victims of the mad Dr. Cyclops' shrinking ray. The whole affair had a whiff of wonder and I was deeply intrigued and mesmerized by the images. I yearned to see the film but alas it was not to be.
DR. CYCLOPS never showed up on any television channel that I had access to while growing up and it was never theatrically re-released. It never turned up at any of the comic book conventions I attended in the 1970s (although several other classic horror, fantasy and science fiction films did). It wasn't until sometime in the 1990s that I finally acquired a copy of the film on VHS (remember that?). I know I watched it at least but that was at least twenty years ago and the details of the film were hazy until a few days ago.
That was when my buddy Kelly Greene and I sat down to watch DR. CYCLOPS on DVD. We were both stunned and blown away by how beautiful this film looks. Shot in the long since abandoned three-strip Technicolor format, this Paramount Pictures production bears the distinction of being the first full color science fiction film ever made.
And what color it is! Three-strip Technicolor gives everything a super-saturated look. It's like the color palette has been turned up to 11. The green glow of Dr. Cyclops' radium ray is so rich, so lush, so lurid, if you will, that it gives certain scenes in the film a look that is straight off of the cover of a 1940s era science fiction pulp magazine.
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack (who also co-directed the original KING KONG (1933)), DR. CYCLOPS stars Albert Dekker in the title role. He's a mad scientist ensconced in some ruins in the jungles of South America where he operates a radium mine. He kills a man with the deadly green substance at the beginning of the film to let us know he's a really bad guy. The doctor has sent for a fellow scientist to confer about his findings. The scientist is accompanied by his fetching assistant and three other men (one is a mineralogist). After Cyclops speaks briefly with the scientist, he abruptly dismisses them all wishing to remain alone in the jungle with his experiments. The five are naturally curious and suspicious about just what the doctor is up to too and they begin to poke around. That leads to trouble. The doctor turns his shrinking ray upon all of them and thus begins an exciting adventure of cat-and-mouse as the shrunken people attempt to escape their now enormous (and myopic) captor.
DR. CYCLOPS has wonderful special effects, enormous props and sets and a terrific performance by Dekker. For years afterwards, every time I saw Albert Dekker in other movies I always wondered why he didn't look like he did in the pictures in FAMOUS MONSTERS! The technicolor cinematography adds immensely to the film and makes every shot a pleasure to watch. Forry turned me on to DR. CYCLOPS years ago but I could never have imagined what a thrill it would be to finally see the film in all it's lush, vivid, pulpy glory. Highly recommended.