The Mad Doctor
UK title: A Date with Destiny
(1941), 90 minutes, b&w

 

Rathbone and Ellen Drew"The Mad Doctor" is a superior suspense film in which Rathbone plays Dr. Sebastian, a psychiatrist who marries wealthy women, and then murders them. The film opens in a small town called Midbury.  Dr. Downer, a medical doctor, is called to Dr. Sebastian's house to treat Sebastian's wife Ida, who is sick with pneumonia. He arrives too late; Mrs. Sebastian has died.

Surprised that Ida didn't recover from pneumonia, Dr. Downer remembers that Ida had a premonition that something bad was going to happen.  The doctor voices his suspicions to his housekeeper. "I don't like George Sebastian. . . . There's something twisted in him, something cold and hidden. . . . strange man, full of secrets."

As soon as the funeral and the affairs of Ida's estate are wound up, Dr. Sebastian and friend/co-conspirator Maurice (Martin Kosleck) move to New York, where Dr. Sebastian sets up practice. One of his patients asks him to talk with her sister Linda, depressed and suicidal. "She gets very low over nothing at all." Upon learning that Linda has her own private fortune, Sebastian is eager to meet her. He says he'd like to observe her without her knowing that he's doing so professionally. So the sister invites him to a charity bazaar, at which Linda is working. Linda and Sebastian meet, and she finds him charming. Later, however, Linda attempts to jump from the roof of the building. After her suicide attempt, Linda agrees to put herself in Dr. Sebastian's care.

Linda's boyfriend Gil Sawyer is very suspicious of Dr. Sebastian. Gil thinks Sebastian is a quack, and wants to know who he is, what are his credentials. Believing Sebastian is a "half-baked soul-meddler" Gil announces to Linda's family, "I'm going to write an exposfont> of phony psychiatrists, and I'll prove that usually the patient is helping the insanity of the doctor, coddling his delusions of superiority.  And that 9 times out of ten, the patient loses his own soul in the process."Sebastian and Maurice

Gil is right to be suspicious. While Gil is working on his article, Dr. Sebastian asks Maurice if he would like to be very rich. "If I married [Linda], and she died, I'd be rich, innocent, and respectable."

Over the next two months Linda continues to see Dr. Sebastian, and firmly believes that he is helping her. She is much happier and is also falling under Sebastian's charm. Gil believes that there is nothing wrong with Linda that common sense can't cure. "There's something weird and wrong with that Sebastian," he says. In spite of Dr. Sebastian's "weirdness," he manages to help Linda confront the childhood event that was causing her depression. They develop a closer relationship, and one evening Sebastian describes to Linda a case of a male patient, who discovered his wife and best friend together as lovers, and killed them both. In his mind, his wife became the personification of all women, and he swore to kill every woman who promised him love.  His case seemed almost hopeless, but recently his hate and bitterness has dissolved. Sebastian is of course describing himself; he has really fallen in love with Linda, and does not wish to kill her, but rather to live a normal, married life.


Sebastian falls for Linda

Dr. Sebastian charming the lovely Linda

Gil Sawyer continues to investigate Dr. Sebastian. He travels to Midbury to visit Dr. Downer and mentions to him that Sebastian once practiced in Savannah, and left there after his wife died.  It's some coincidence that he's been married twice and both wives died of pneumonia. Dr. Downer decides that an autopsy on Ida Sebastian is warranted.

Sebastian and Maurice read in the newspaper that Ida's body is going to be exhumed. Sebastian sends Maurice to Midbury to take care of the problem. As soon as he's gone, Sebastian calls Linda and arranges to marry her the next day.

In Midbury, Maurice removes Ida's body, and dumps it in the river. He takes the train back to New York City, and notifies Sebastian that Dr. Downer was also on the train. Sebastian is afraid that Dr. Downer will find out who he really is.

Dr. Downer goes to the Public Library to look at the Medical School yearbooks. He finds a photo of a young Sebastian, but the name below the photo is Frederick Langemann. Downer then finds an old newspaper clipping with the headline: "Doctor convicted of double murder escapes from prison." He realizes that the murderer is Langemann, a.k.a. Sebastian.

Dr. Downer calls Mrs. Sebastian to warn her, but of course she doesn't believe him. She agrees to meet with him; she wants to talk with him before he goes to the police.

Meanwhile, Maurice and Sebastian have followed Downer onto the subway train. When Downer exits that train, Sebastian grabs him and pushes him in front of an oncoming train. Linda is in a taxi on the street above, waiting to meet Downer. When she sees the ambulance arrive, learns that a Dr. Downer "threw himself in front of a train," and then sees her husband leaving the scene, she realizes that what Dr. Downer told her was the truth.

At home, she confronts Sebastian about killing Dr. Downer. He tells her, "Whatever I've done, whoever I've been, I love you."


"He said you were dangerous and vicious."

Sebastian, about to fall from window ledge

Linda is frightened, and faints.  Sebastian plans to jump off the ledge with Linda in his arms, but hears knocking at the door, so he leaves her and crawls onto the ledge himself.  Then he lets himself fall.

When Linda comes to, she tells Gil, "You should have seen his face, his eyes--so cruel, and yet so sad."

Despite the title "The Mad Doctor" is not a horror film, but a psychological thriller. Rathbone's performance is restrained, powerful and intense. The rest of the cast also turned in fine performances. Martin Kosleck, who played Maurice Gretz, recalled the following about Rathbone: "I enjoyed working on Mad Doctor more than anything else in my career because of Basil Rathbone. He was a wonderful man . . . very precise . . . he rehearsed everything until it was perfect. Between scenes, we would walk around the Paramount lot and go over our lines . . . I loved that man."1

Rathbone originally turned down the film (then titled "Destiny"), but with the addition of a new opening scene and the title changed to "A Date with Destiny" Rathbone agreed to do the film. It was later released as "The Mad Doctor" and was an acclaimed success.

Go to Page Two for more pictures from "The Mad Doctor."

Go to Page Three to see Promo photos and posters from the film.

 

 

1 Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films, Michael Druxman (New York: A.S. Barnes), 1975, page 247.

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone.............. Dr. George Sebastian Production Co. .............. Paramount Pictures
Ellen Drew...................... Linda Boothe   Producer.......................... George M. Arthur
John Howard................. Gil Sawyer   Director........................... Tim Whelan
Barbara "Vera Vague"
       Allen........................
Louise Watkins   Screenplay......................
                     Ben Hecht,
Howard J. Green,
Charles MacArthur
Ralph Morgan................ Dr. Downer  

Assistant Director.........

Joe Youngerman
Martin Koslek................ Maurice Gretz   Cinematographer........... Ted Tetzlaff
Hugh O'Connell............. Lawrence Watkins   Film Editor...................... Archie Marshek
Kitty Kelly...................... Winnie   Music Composer........... Victor Young
Hugh Sothern................ Hatch   Stock Music................... Stephan Pasternacki
George Chandler............ Elevator Operator   Art Directors.................. Hans Dreier,
Robert Usher
Billy Benedict ................ Copy Boy (Mickey)   Costumes........................ Edith Head
Frances Raymond......... Librarian   Sound.............................. Harry Mills, John Cope
Harry Hayden ............... Ticket Clerk   Special Photographic Effects ........................... Gordon Jennings
Douglas Kennedy......... Hotel Clerk   Process Photography... Farciot Edouart
John Laird...................... Intern Interior Decoration....... A.E. Freudeman
James Seay..................... Intern      
Sheila Ryan.................... Hostess at Charity Bazaar      
Ben Taggart................... Motorman      
Charles McAvoy........... Conductor      
Johnnie Morris.............. Newsboy      
Howard Mitchell............ Station Master      
Charles Hamilton........... Cop      
Norma Varden................ Susan      
Henry Victor................... Dr. Thurber      
Max Wagner.................. Taxi Driver      
William Wayne.............. Taxi Driver      
Jacques Vanaire............. Waiter      
William Kline.................. Butler      
Larry McGrath................ Photographer      
Laura Treadwell............. Woman      
Wanda McKay.............. Girl      
Jean Phillips................... Girl      
Kay Stewart................... Girl      
Ned Norton.................... Passenger      
Edward Earle.................. Attendant      
Betty McLaughlin......... Cigarette Girl      
Dorothy Dayton............ Cigarette Girl      
Harry Bailey................... Man with newspaper      

 

 

click to go to top of page
Top of
Page

Site Map

All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2007