I recently wrote about the origins of Columbia's Crime Doctor series in an article focused on the first movie in the series, titled simply Crime Doctor. Released in 1943 Crime Doctor would be the first of ten movies starring Warner Baxter as the title psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Ordway. The movies and character are based on Max Marcin's Crime Doctor radio series which aired in one form or another from 1940-1947.
Crime Doctor featured Dr. Ordway's origin story. The Ordway character began as a criminal named Phil Morgan who lost his memory after he was double-crossed and thrown from a moving car. Taking his name from the Ordway ward of the hospital where he recuperated the amnesia victim seeks out his past with the aid of Dr. Carey. Frustrated that Dr. Carey can't help him, Ordway decides to help himself and embarks on a period of study leading to his own medical degree.
The Crime Doctor solves his own past in Crime Doctor before being spun off into more familiar mystery stories in the nine sequels to follow.
This page is meant to serve as a Crime Doctor episode guide. No cases are spoiled. Details are kept to the people, places and situations that best identify each movie.
Crime Doctor Index
While the first entry will take you to another page, the subsequent Crime Doctor movies are all covered on this page. At this time six of the nine sequels are detailed. I will add the other three as I gain access to them. Click any title to head directly to that entry.
- Crime Doctor (1943)
- Crime Doctor's Strangest Case (1943)
- Shadows in the Night (1944)
- The Crime Doctor's Courage (1945)
- Crime Doctor's Warning (1945)
- Just Before Dawn (1946)
- Crime Doctor's Man Hunt (1946)
- The Millerson Case (1947)
- Crime Doctor's Gamble (1947)
- The Crime Doctor's Diary (1949)
Note: I find it funny that the three I'm missing are those which don't include the words "Crime Doctor" in the title. Somebody at Turner Classic Movies needs to take a little more care when assembling their next Crime Doctor marathon!
The first sequel in the Crime Doctor series catches itself up to Ordway's story line from the radio by having him mention that he's resigned from the parole board and setting him off to run his own investigation separate from that of the police.
Crime Doctor's Strangest Case is filled with familiar faces and moves at breakneck pace. It's simple beginning takes place in Ordway's office where Jimmy Trotter (Lloyd Bridges) and his fiancé Ellen (Lynn Merrick), visit. Sometime previous to this Ordway had managed to get Jimmy a second trial that cleared him of murdering his boss, but now he is concerned that Jimmy has taken on a similar position as secretary to Walter Burns. He advises Jimmy and Ellen to wait to get married until Jimmy finds a different job.
Curious as to why anyone would hire an accused poisoner to work for him Ordway heads off to the Burns residence to have a word and that's where the fun begins. When the Crime Doctor rings the bell confused old Miss Patricia (Virginia Brissac) thinks he's come in response to her having called the police. Walter Burns is dead. Poisoned, just like Jimmy's previous employer had been.
Alongside Burns' corpse in his bedroom are his much younger wife, Diana Burns (Rose Hobart); Addison (Sam Flint), brother of the deceased; Paul Ashley (Reginald Denny), his nephew; and the too polite cook, Mrs. Keppler (Gloria Dickson). While Mrs. Keppler speaks softly and kindly the Burns family members are all rather short-tempered with Doctor Ordway and to the viewer any of them seem a possible suspect. Their moods are not improved any when Detective Rief (Barton MacLane) and his sidekick Yarnell (Thomas E. Jackson) arrive. The real police are surprised by Ordway's presence and make it clear that he has nothing to do with them.
While the police question Jimmy upstairs, Ordway feigns his exit and instead heads to the kitchen to have a cup of tea and bit of conversation with Mrs. Keppler. But Ordway's chit chat isn't conducted idly, he concludes by calling her out as a fake but is interrupted by a gun shot from upstairs before he's able to reveal the path of his deductions to us. Leaving the kitchen Jimmy races out the front door with Detectives Rief and Yarnell giving chase and firing their guns after him. Meanwhile Mrs. Keppler hurries to her bedroom, locks the door and slips out of her disguise.
All of those introductions and resulting action and we're only 15 minutes into Crime Doctor's Strangest Case. Directed by Eugene Forde, who had had series experience at 20th Century-Fox in multiple Charlie Chan outings, Crime Doctor's Strangest Case never stops moving, brings several, if not all, characters under suspicion, and even takes an artsy turn with a dark dream sequence recounted by Miss Patricia.
Fine acting by all even getting a little more out of Warner Baxter than is summoned in later entries, Crime Doctor's Strangest Case also features a smarmy Jerome Cowan and the return of Doctor Ordway's nurse, Betty, played by Constance Worth. Betty is dropped after this second entry, a shame since she had more to do in this one as sort of a Della Street to Ordway's Perry Mason than she had in the Crime Doctor's initial outing.
Highly recommended and a superior mystery story in comparison to the previous Crime Doctor.
Shadows in the Night (1944)
This space will be filled after I secure and view a copy of Shadows in the Night.
A brother and sister dancing combo played by Anthony Caruso and Lupita Tovar figure in the most intriguing bits of The Crime Doctor's Courage. They have what appears to be a gimmicked act where the sister, Dolores Bragga, disappears into thin air in the middle of their performance.
When Ordway asks about the origins of the dance brother Miguel Bragga replies that "We have been doing that dance for 300 years." Left a moment on his own in the Bragga's den Ordway spots a painting of the siblings and can't help but to notice that it is dated 1648. The Braggas can't stand daylight and are said not to throw a reflection in any mirror. They employ a mute goon (King Kong Kashey) to move a large trunk that supposedly shields them from the sun so they can come and go from the club. Ordway also bumps into two empty and open coffins secluded away in the Braggas basement behind a padlocked door.
In a fantastic extra little touch Lupita Tovar, making her final film appearance in The Crime Doctor's Courage, had previously played the female lead in the 1931 acclaimed Spanish version of Dracula! Tovar is still with us today at over 100 years old!
This is the Crime Doctor entry with the vampires. Or is it?
The Crime Doctor's Courage opens with newlyweds Evelyn and Gordon Carson (Stephen Crane) honeymooning at a mountainside resort. Dialogue reveals that this is Gordon's second marriage and the first didn't end well. Gordon was cleared of any wrongdoing but his first wife died soon after they were married, drowned at a resort on the coast of Maine.
Wife number two is gone before we even meet Ordway. Our first glimpse of the Crime Doctor this time around finds him on vacation at a California resort taking in some rays and relaxing with a beer. It's there that he bumps into an old New York acquaintance, Kathleen Massey (Hillary Brooke) who quickly notes that her married name is now Carson and that she'd like Dr. Ordway to come meet her husband, Gordon, because "I want you to tell me if I'm married to a madman."
We meet the rest of our characters at the Carson party that evening. Jerome Cowan is back, mentioning he hasn't seen Ordway in three years. Actually it's just over one year since Cowan's appearance in Crime Doctor's Strangest Case, but we can let that slip since he's playing a totally different character here, mystery writer Jeff Jerome.
Ordway first spots the Braggas at the party and he's also introduced to Kathleen's father, John Massey, a cabinet maker played by Lloyd Corrigan, then a semi-regular with Columbia's Boston Blackie series. Kathleen's friend Bob (Mark Roberts) is at the party as is "a servant who isn't a servant" who turns out to be David Lee (Dennis Moore), brother to Gordon Carson's late first wife.
Lee breaks the party up by exposing Carson's past sending guests every which way, many for the door, and it's then that someone meets a violent end.
West Coast law enforcement is soon on the scene as Captain Birch (Emory Parnell) arrives to be told what's what by The Crime Doctor.
One of the more intriguing Crime Doctor stories with the accumulating hints pointing to vampirism, but surely one of the most rushed as well with terrible, thankfully brief, performances from Moore and Crane and even Baxter flubbing his lines at least three times. The copy I viewed almost seemed as though it were edited for TV with a handful of scenes ending abruptly and leaving me feeling as though I had missed something. Despite its flaws as entertaining as any of the other Crime Doctor entries.
The first of four Crime Doctor entries to be directed by William Castle, famed B-movie director best remembered for later chillers such as House on Haunted Hill (1958), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Straight-Jacket (1964), and others. Despite being at the start of his career Castle had already directed two of the Richard Dix led Whistler series entries for Columbia prior to his Crime Doctor quartet.
Crime Doctor's Warning opens with Ordway (Warner Baxter) having his silhouette cut out of paper by nervous silhouette artist Jimmy Gordon (John Abbott). It's no surprise when Ordway walks around the corner to hand the artwork off to Inspector Dawes (John Litel) and they discuss whether it's in the same style as cut-out found in the same apartment as a recent murder victim.
Ordway is soon visited by another artist, Clive Lake (Coulter Irwin), who is concerned over some serious memory lapses brought on by a spate of blackouts. Kind-hearted Ordway gives Lake his card and suggests he give him a call the next time he feels one of the warning headaches coming on that trigger the blackouts. A thankful Lake departs and Ordway gets in touch with Frederick Malone (Miles Mander), proprietor of a local art gallery, with the request Malone take on one of Lake's paintings to help boost the young artist's confidence.
While Lake's work is not up to Malone's standards for his gallery, Ordway arranges an acceptable solution and the painting is taken on. Back at Clive Lake's studio he paints his model and girlfriend, Connie Mack (Dusty Anderson), pausing to give Ordway a call when he feels one of his spells coming on. Lake excuses himself from Connie and heads up to the roof of his building for some fresh air.
Immediately after Lake reaches the roof a dark figure climbs down a ladder from that same roof and slides into Lake's apartment through a window Lake himself had just opened prior to his exit from his apartment. It's curtains for Connie whose body is stored under Lake's bed and discovered later at a party Lake throws to celebrate the sale of the painting Ordway had left with Malone's Gallery.
Lake is chief suspect for Inspector Dawes, but Ordway senses there may be more to the mystery than that, especially after meeting Lake's protective mother (Alma Kruger). Also figuring in the mystery are fine artist Duval (Franco Corsaro), eccentric male model Nick Petroni (Eduardo Ciannelli), and a painting titled "The Ring" which includes the original murder victim along with Connie and a third girl who the other two victims knew.
Just Before Dawn (1946)
This space will be filled after I secure and view a copy of Just Before Dawn.
Also directed by William Castle and starting out much like Crime Doctor's Warning in that a man calling himself John Foster (Myron Healey) pays a visit to Ordway (Warner Baxter) to inquire about his lapses in memory. When "Foster" exits Ordway's offices we're shown a woman outside who has trailed him. The woman, who we later find out is called Irene Cotter (Ellen Drew) pushes her way into Ordway's office and begs him to tell her what "Foster," her fiance, had talked to him about. Ordway cites patient-doctor confidentiality and the woman is on her way.
Walking home through a dark alley Ordway soon comes upon two thugs who are holding the limp body of John Foster. Spotted before he could duck away Ordway puts on a delightful drunk act, bumps into one of the thugs and spots a trickle of blood running down Foster's temple. Ordway's supposed state helps him escape the same fate himself. The men drop him at a random apartment that Ordway claimed was his own. As soon as he's free the Crime Doctor springs into action putting in a call to Inspector Manning (William Frawley).
At first Frawley comes off as a bit too tough as the Inspector but he soon settles into the character and a somewhat enjoyable and unlikely crime fighting duo is formed between himself and Baxter.
Also figuring in Crime Doctor's Man Hunt are a mysterious tough-as-nails blonde in glasses who doles out orders to our thugs; Irene's meek father, Gerald Cotter (Francis Pierlot); Ruby Farrell (Claire Carlteton), another tough dame, who operates a shooting gallery at a local carnival; Alfredi (Ivan Triesault), a fortune teller at the carnival who had set Foster off by predicting his death; the carnival barker (Cy Malis), who we only see a couple of times but who gives Ordway the real stink eye; Marcus Le Blaine (Olin Howland) as a goofy phrenologist who steals the scenes in an apartment that Ordway and the Inspector investigate; Tom, the Cotter's gardener (Paul E. Burns), who the thugs get a little tough with when seeking the whereabouts of Irene's missing sister, Natalie; finally, Mr. Harrera (Leonardo Scavino), a litigious loudmouth who hurls threats at the Inspector for smearing the name of his wife, Natalie Cotter.
Quite the roll call of characters including several suspects in this entertaining Crime Doctor entry!
The Millerson Case (1947)
This space will be filled after I secure and view a copy of The Millerson Case.
This Crime Doctor entry takes place entirely in Paris as Ordway visits on a two week lecture tour. Beyond Warner Baxter the cast is composed primarily of French and European actors.
Ordway is in Paris to lecture and hopes not to become involved with any criminal cases. Easier said then done when he stops by a Paris police station to visit his old friend Inspector Morrell (Marcel Journet). Apparently the men met nine years previous when Ordway hosted the Inspector at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.
Morrell takes Ordway out for a night on the Paris town culminating on the wrong side of the tracks at a club called Le Coo Rouge. The entertainment begins with dancers but when the floor show turns to a hooded knife thrower Ordway soon declares that "That fellow plays with murder!"
Inspector Morrell makes it clear that this is exactly what he suspects. When Ordway returns to the station to meet Morrell for lunch the next day, Morrell asks him to wait a moment while he talks with Henri Jardin (Roger Dann), suspect in a very curious murder case.
Jardin is suspected of flying into a rage and killing his own father. Morrell, who spent three years in a concentration camp with Jardin during the war, wants his friend to plead insanity. No go for Jardin who had previously been declared sane and released from an institution.
To connect the dots Jardin has recently married the former Mignon Duval (Micheline Cheirel). Ordway had seen Mignon the night before--when her father, Maurice Duval (Eduardo Ciannelli), practiced his trade throwing knives at her at the Le Coo Rouge.
Also figuring in the story are the young artist, Anton Geroux (Maurice Marsac) who is expert in painting reproduction copies of master works and happens to be in love with Mignon; Jules Daudet (Steven Geray), the senior Jardin's former attorney now charged with defending Henri for having killed his father; Louis Chabonet (Henri Letondal), owner of the art gallery who consigns work from Geroux.
Emory Parnell, who previously had a more major role as Captain Birch in The Crime Doctor's Courage, shows up in a minor role as O'Reilly, an American bidder at an auction.
Crime Doctor's Gamble remains intriguing by killing off its most likely suspects early and not giving away the mystery until the trap Ordway sets is sprung.
Ordway pays a visit to prison where the Warden (Selmer Jackson) tells him convicted firebug Steve Carter (Stephen Dunne) is being released on parole today. Ordway, who signed off on the parole, is glad to hear it because he always thought Carter innocent of the arson charge anyway.
Bellem Music Company, Steve's place of employment prior to prison, is an interesting and extinct business. They are a storehouse for records, vinyl that is, where requests are taken by phone and the music piped back to their customers on the other end of the line. A bar that Pete Bellem (Whit Bissell) frequents even has a machine that plays back the requests, like a 40's virtual jukebox.
Pete isn't the Bellem in charge of the Bellem Co., though, that would be his brother, Phil (Don Beddoe). Also on the premises are Bellem's partner, Carl Anson (George Meeker), and Jane (Lois Maxwell), one of the girls who takes the requests and plays back the records. Jane is Steve Carter's ex-girlfriend and despite warnings from Bellem and Anson she drives out to the prison to give him a ride back to New York.
Carter comes out of prison with a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove his innocence. He seems rather sure that either the cantankerous Anson or former mobster and head of Bellem's rival company, Goldie Harrigan (Robert Armstrong), set the fire that he took blame for. Complicating matters for Jane is Inez Gray (Adele Jergens) at Goldie's company. Steve is in love with Inez.
The first third or so of The Crime Doctor's Diary is spent introducing these characters and following Steve as he attempts to clear himself of past accusations. There's not much for the Crime Doctor to do until one of the characters mentioned above is murdered.
That brings Inspector Manning (Cliff Clark) onto the case. Ordway and Manning don't see eye to eye at all on this one. The Inspector accuses Ordway of believing the crime is part of a gang war angle: jukebox syndicate versus wired music people, a theory the police have already ruled out. But Ordway says no, he thinks it might be a love angle.
Fittingly, Crime Doctor's Diary was the last of the Crime Doctor movies I watched in anticipation of preparing this report. It is also, of the seven entries I watched, the darkest Crime Doctor movie of them all. Directed by Seymour Friedman, who had previously directed two Boston Blackie movies for Columbia, Crime Doctor's Diary was the only Crime Doctor entry (except perhaps Crime Doctor's Man Hunt) that really hints at a film noir style when viewed through modern eyes.
Warner Baxter had spent the bulk of the decade playing Dr. Robert Ordway. Between the first Crime Doctor in 1943 and The Crime Doctor's Diary in 1949, he only appeared in two non-series releases and one of those was filmed before the first Crime Doctor. He would appear in three additional films following the the final Crime Doctor with Columbia's State Penitentiary being his final role.
Baxter was ill and would be hospitalized twice in 1951 prior to his death on May 7 of that same year. He was 62 years old.
If you'd like to know more about Warner Baxter's life and career here is a brief biography I wrote about him a little over two years ago.
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