Dr. Cyclops (1940) is a science fiction horror film directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, starring Thomas Coley, Victor Kilian, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Frank Yaconelli, and Albert Dekker, and released by Paramount Pictures.
Three scientists — mineralogist Dr. Bill Stockton (Thomas Coley) and biologists Dr. Mary Robinson (Janice Logan) and Dr. Bullfinch (Charles Halton) — are summoned by Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker) to his laboratory in the Peruvian jungle. They are accompanied by a local miner, Steve Baker (Victor Kilian) who suspects that Thorkel is secretly mining ore. When they arrive they find Thorkel has brought them all the way there only to identify some crystals under his microscope, since his eyesight is too poor for him to see them himself. Their job done, he now wants them to leave.
Insulted, they set up camp in Thorkel's stockade until he will tell them more about the experiments in which he is engaged. They discover that Thorkel is attempting to shrink living organisms using radiation. When he finds them snooping in his laboratory, he angrily locks them (along with his assistant Pedro (Frank Yaconelli)) inside his radiation chamber. When they emerge they find they have shrunk to twelve inches tall.
At first willing to play-act the role of benevolent despot with his miniaturized captives, Thorkel reveals the more sinister side of his personality by abruptly murdering Bullfinch in cold blood (easily the film's most frightening sequence) because the effects of the ray are wearing off. The rest of the picture details the escape efforts of the four pint-sized protagonists as they hack their way through a jungle of gigantic foliage and do battle with oversize wildlife. By morning, they attempt to cross a river via small boat but are interrupted by an alligator. Thorkel then comes in, killing Pedro and igniting the grass to kill the rest. The fugitives are able to hide in one of Thorkel’s specimen cases and are unknowingly brought back to his lab.
While Thorkel goes to check on an apparatus he has set above an old mineshaft, Bill, Steve and Mary prepare to kill him with his own shotgun when he lies in bed. However, he instead falls asleep at his desk. Steve then attempts to steal Thorkel's glasses, without which he is nearly sightless. Accidentally alerted, Thorkel chases the shrunken trio to the mineshaft and nearly slips. The heroes take advantage of the distraction to cut his rope, causing Thorkel to plunge into the pit.
Months later, Bill, Steve and Mary are seen returning to the South American town, restored to their original size. Bill and Mary are in love.
Place in Film History
Dr. Cyclops is noteworthy for having been directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack of King Kong fame. Like that earlier film, it involves an expedition into the jungle in search of scientific discovery. Also like King Kong, the film features elaborate sets and special effects, here used to convincingly depict the shrunken humans. The film is also the first U.S. science fiction film made in Technicolor, and Schoedsack took care that the special effects in color were effective.
The film is also memorable for the strong female character of Mary Robinson, who is depicted as intelligent, resourceful and self-willed. She is very different to the more traditional "damsel in distress" role played by Anne Darrow (Fay Wray) in King Kong.