The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, starring Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Claire Trevor, Allen Jenkins
Editorial review of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, courtesy of Amazon.com
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse is a stylish, often amusing crime drama, this 1938 feature revolves around a central, improbable plot twist that consciously serves its casting against type: as the eponymous doctor, Edward G. Robinson, who had helped define the Warner Bros. style for gritty gangster sagas, jettisons his signature snarl in favor of a plummy, vaguely English accent that underlines his urbane sophistication. Dr. Clitterhouse is a creature of privilege who embarks on a criminal life not out of desperation, but rather through intellectual curiosity; instead of slouch hats and suits, he has marcelled hair and first appears in white tie and tails. He begins pulling off “perfect” jewel thefts as research into the criminal mind, but his gradual immersion in New York’s shadowy demimonde of thieves and fences eventually finds the good doctor between those two worlds.
Robinson’s principal foils stick closer to their studio strong suits. Humphrey Bogart is “Rocks” Valentine, a sturdy if familiar variation on the hoods and have-nots that were his early stock in trade at the studio. Bogart’s fence and former paramour is Jo Keller, played by Claire Trevor as glamorous, streetwise, and otherwise decent, apart from her knack for larceny. When the doctor asks her to fence his glittering contraband, she’s intrigued, and Clitterhouse, known to the hoods only as “the Professor,” becomes their strategist. Jo is clearly falling for him, while “Rocks” is visibly jealous of the fastidious stranger’s rising influence and romantic rivalry.
In keeping with its ultimately goofy premise, the story navigates some eccentric plot turns with an aplomb that can be credited to the solid cast (including other studio stalwarts such as Allen Jenkins, Ward Bond, and Donald Crisp) and the three principals, who would work off each other to much more riveting effect a decade later in Key Largo. –Sam Sutherland