Crime Doctor is psychiatrist Dr Robert Ordway (Warner Baxter). Apparently there’s a strange backstory about Dr Ordway suffering from amnesia but this isn’t mentioned at all in this particular film. Actually there’s a good deal more weirdness to the backstory than that but I’m reluctant to say more since it might reveal spoilers for the first film in the series. In addition to his psychiatric practice Dr Ordway is a keen amateur crime-solver.
Jimmy Trotter (Lloyd Bridges) is an old patient who comes to ask Dr Ordway’s advice about his upcoming marriage to Ellen (Lynn Merrick). Dr Ordway advises them not to get married yet, at least until Jimmy gets a more suitable job. The job he has at the moment, as secretary to wealthy businessman Walter Burns, is a bit too similar to the job he had when his previous employer died of poisoning. Jimmy had been accused of murder in that case. Dr Ordway had been instrumental in obtaining Jimmy’s acquittal and perhaps Dr Ordway thinks that it is tempting fate for Jimmy to hold exactly the same sort of position again.
Dr Ordway’s misgivings turn out to be well founded. The Crime Doctor’s skills as amateur sleuth will be needed again, in another poisoning murder case with Jimmy caught in the middle.
There’s a dream sequence that can be seen as an anticipation of Hitchcock’s Spellbound, although it’s obviously much less ambitious and visually bold. It’s still not bad for a B-picture. The movie makes use of flashbacks, also fairly bold since film noir had not yet made this technique so all-pervasive in crime movies.
Lloyd Bridges (looking very young indeed) gives a hyperactive performance that verges on hysteria at times but then his character does seem to have a knack for landing himself in trouble. Quite a few of the performances are slightly odd. Or perhaps it’s the script that’s slightly odd, or the actors were just doing what director Eugene Forde wanted. Dr Ordway’s nurse seems jumpy and highly strung to say the least (I’m not sure of the identity of the actress but I think it’s Constance Worth). Ellen is a slightly strange character as well.
The Crime Doctor movies were quite popular (you don’t make ten movies in a series unless you’re reaching some kind of audience). The central idea is certainly interesting. Personally I love movies of this era that deal with psychiatry - they’re nearly always enjoyably bizarre.
This is very much a B-movie but despite its occasional oddness of tone it’s entertaining. I’m not sure I’d rush out and buy the boxed set but Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case is worth a look if it pops up on cable TV or if you can find it as a rental. Fans of B-movies of this period should enjoy it.