The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) Anatole Litvak

“The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse”  is an odd little Warner’s film with Edward G. Robinson as a Park Avenue doctor who decides to do some research on criminal behavior by becoming a criminal himself. After stealing some expensive jewelry at a dinner party he seeks out a fence by the name of Joe Keller who turns out to be Jo Keller (Claire Trevor), a woman. Jo’s gang includes “Rocks” Valentine (Humphrey Bogart), a young Ward Bond, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and Warner Brothers’ regular Allan Jenkins.

To continue his research the good doctor goes on “vacation” in Europe freeing him up from his practice to secretly join the gang in a series of daring robberies. This is a out of the ordinary film that manages at times to be suspenseful, funny, and sinister with a whiff of mad scientist thrown in for good measure. At times the actors seem to be in different films; Bogart in a straight gangster film with “Rocks” in the ranks of his greatest slime ball characters while Robinson acts as a scientifically aloof madman obsessed with his findings going to any length to save his breakthrough research.

In the final courtroom scene Clitterhouse is on trial for poisoning “Rocks” after he discovered the Doctor’s real identity and blackmails him forcing in to stay in the gang. Clitterhouse objects to testimony in court that he must be insane fearing all his research would be disregarded. Still the jury finds him innocent by reason of insanity leaving Clitterhouse not only confused but innocent of murder charges, an ending that was daring for its time when the production code was strictly enforced and criminals must pay for their sins.

The script was written by John Wexley and John Huston based on a play by Barre Lyndon, and was directed by the reliable Anatole Litvak. It was during the filming of this movie that Bogart and Huston met and became friends, a partnership that would lead to some of Hollywood’s greatest films. Huston, Robinson, Bogart and Trevor would reunite some ten years later in “Key Largo.”    

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10 comments on “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) Anatole Litvak

  1. Your review makes this sound like one of those Don’t Miss films and I shall look for it.

    I taped the 1934 French film of “Les Miserables”, directed and co-written for the screen by Raymond Bernard, because it was much too late in the morning to view. It’s a very long film and I misjudged the length because of incorrect listings by Leonard Maltin and the TCM book. So I missed everything after the barricades during the Revolution, including, I presume, Valjean being chased through the Paris sewers.

    I was struck immediately by the modernity of the music and it turned out to be composed by Arthur Honegger. The style of directing was quite modern as well, with the camera generally much closer to the actors, very much more like contemporary films. And in action scenes or battle scenes the use of handheld cameras was quite striking. I found every minute of the film engaging and I hope to see the rest of it soon.

    My best wishes to you, John, and thanks for a vital and exciting site.

    Dave

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Dave, that is too bad about the recording mishaps. I have been there myself. I have not seen this version of Les Miserables myself though it sounds like another one for that long list of films to catch up on. Thanks again for stopping by!

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  2. This one sounds interesting and is on the ever growing list.

    I remember as a kid watching all the old films on tv saturdays.

    Don’t remember this one.

    Thanks and hope all is well! Cheers!

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  3. Sam Juliano says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how many Edward G. Robinson films there are out there, and when you think you’ve gotten a handle, there’s always one still to see. Such is the case with this film, which is nonetheless by an important director. Litvak helmed the masterpiece MAYERLING, and is is also distinguished for his work on THE SNAKE PIT. According to what you say here is this engaging read, it was the rather unlikely meeting between Bogart and Huston on the set of this relatively minor title that led to their famed partnership.

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    • John Greco says:

      The more films I see by Litvak the more I like his work. He has made his share of excellent films, let’s not for THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

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  4. Sam Juliano says:

    Ah John, you’ve slipped a bit, and committed a “Sam Juliano” kind of error. THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE was directed by Siodmak! LOL!!!

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    • John Greco says:

      LOL, thanks for the correction Sam you are so right. That’s what happens with age! Okay, let’s subsitute SORRY, WRONG NUMBER for STAIRCASE though it is not in the same class.

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  5. Judy says:

    I have got to see this one – Robinson, Bogart, Trevor, Huston and Litvak! Sounds unmissable!

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