Mad scientist Albert Dekker plays God with jungle discovery of uranium in beautiful Technicolor. His student (Paul Fix) sent for him imagining their using the discovery to create "a palace of healing," but Dekker becomes obsessed with shrinking living things for no apparent reason but to "mold life like putty." In beautiful Technicolor.
There were things I loved about this movie when I was a kid: Albert Dekker's shiny round head and beady eyes, made even beadier behind tiny round glasses or goggles. The Technicolor, yeah, it is gorgeous, and thanks to King Kong producer-director team Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack we also get a small menagerie of tropical wildlife that tower over Dekker's shrunken foes in several rear projection shots.
Those little people, the team of scientists mad Dekker sent for—not for professional aid, but because his eyes had gone bad—place Dr. Cyclops somewhere between the hi-jinx of Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein and the later The Incredible Shrinking Man, but this film doesn't have the charm of either of those.
Dr. Cyclops piles up exciting visuals on its way to a satisfying climax, but drags about fifteen minutes too long and doesn't really build on our rooting interests in doing so.
I got a kick out of seeing character man Frank Reicher, captain of the Venture in King Kong, show up in an early scene, but that was it for him. Another prolific character actor, Charles Halton—we know him as the bank examiner in It's a Wonderful Life—is one of the three scientists Dekker calls to his jungle retreat, but he's a bigger wet blanket than Dekker. His character does come upon the first evidence of the doctor's madness, the shrunken bones of a pig, and lets us laugh at him alongside Dekker when he declares it a new species that he promptly names after himself.
The focus is on Thomas Coley and Janice Logan as the two younger scientists along with Halton. They provide the love interest, though that's a liberal use of interest. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen either of these actors before or since Dr. Cyclops, and I can't say that I mind.
The three scientists are miffed, then suspicious, after weary Doc Cyclops, actually Doctor Thorkel, bids them quick adieu. A little investigation reveals the Doc is sitting on a huge store of unprocessed uranium that he has no intention of sharing with the world. Thorkel gets angry after he discovers the others snooping around his room, but he catches himself and becomes more friendly as explains his experiments. In doing so he lures the three scientists and two others into his little radiation room, slams the door, and zaps them until they're each only about a foot tall.
Two of the tiny quintet are eliminated by Thorkel, who finds himself racing to wipe out the surviving three after it's revealed that they will all soon revert to normal size. The rest of the movie is a chase, exciting at times, worthwhile conclusion, but no big surprises.
It drags a little in setting up the situation, in other words, prior to the mass shrinking. After that there's lots of climbing, up and down, up and down ... little people climbing routine objects that now appear huge.
Dekker is a fun villain as Thorkel, but I was disappointed that all he could think to do was shrink people after discovering "the cosmic force of creation itself." Still, Dekker's was the only character I found myself caring about. While elements of this 1940 release could pass for '50s sci-fi, the uninspiring, plastic heroes of Dr. Cyclops are another similarity to weaker entries from that following decade.
Pretty to look at though.
A Paramount release available on DVD as one of five films in Universal's Ultimate Sci-Fi Collection Volume 2.
My IMDb rating: 6/10 with the Technicolor and perhaps fond childhood memories boosting it from a 5.