Crime Doctor (1943)

An amnesic rebuilds his life, but ten years later, his accomplishments are threatened when his past begins to catch up with him.

A man tossed from a speeding car is taken to the hospital. When he wakes from a coma, it’s discovered he has a severe case of amnesia. A brief conversation with a visiting stranger, who refers to him as Phil, adds to the mystery, especially when the visitor offers no information on the man’s past. The patient adopts the name of Robert Ordway, from the name of the hospital wing he was staying in and what the nurses have been calling him. Efforts to recover his memory prove fruitless, so the frustrated Ordway decides to heal himself by becoming a doctor.

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Ten years later, Dr. Robert Ordway is a successful psychiatrist, but hasn’t recovered his memory. Lauded for his work with prison inmates, he’s named the new head of the parole board. Unfortunately, several shady characters claiming to be from Ordway’s past resurface, jeopardizing not only his new appointment, but his new life as well.

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This is the first of ten Crime Doctor movies starring Warner Baxter as the titular character Dr. Ordway, the sleuthing psychiatrist. Based on a radio series of the same name, these were produced by Columbia pictures between 1943 and 1949 (with four directed by William Castle). This inaugural movie is a decent enough crime drama, with solid acting throughout, but the script is more convoluted than it needs to be. In addition, it’s overpopulated, with some minor characters only serving a single plot point, and others not being necessary at all.

The most egregious example of the latter is the character of Wheeler. A down-on-his-luck soldier recently imprisoned, he’s thrown in solitary after an escape attempt. Ordway goes to speak with him, but Wheeler’s got a chip on his shoulder and gets physical with the doctor. Bizarrely, after being attacked, Ordway arranges for the inmate to run a boot camp program in the prison. It’s such a success, there’s a demonstration with high-ranking officials in attendance, capping off with the announcement of Ordway’s appointment to the parole board, which is broadcast live on the radio. The whole thing strains credulity, and I suspect was inserted as filler, since the run time is a mere 66 minutes. The sequence feels like a long and hackneyed way to have a character hear about Ordway’s new position, which could have been accomplished by a brief mention heard during a news broadcast.

We do discover important parts of Ordway’s past, so at least that’s resolved, but be prepared to suspend disbelief in the third act, especially for the conclusion, since it can induce some eye-rolling.

Crime Doctor is an average movie, that could have benefited from a little paring down of certain elements. Without the extraneous side stories and characters, it could have focused on the main mystery, most likely improving the pace. My score: 5/10

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