Sunday 2 October 2011

Burl reviews The Man They Could Not Hang! (1939)

Hi, Burl here! If there’s one actor who consistently brings me joy whenever I see him, it’s Dick Miller, but if there was another one it would be Boris Karloff! (They actually appear together, along with another actor called Jack Nicholson, in The Terror!) I’ve always thought he was great, from his excellent performance as Frankenstein Monster right through to those crappy movies he did near the end of his career! Also, he was marvelous in Targets!

But like his great friend and rival Bela Lugosi, Boris played an awful lot of kindly doctors who turn evil when their plans go awry, and ha ha, so it is in The Man They Could Not Hang! I was expecting something a little more along the line of the stuff Bela was doing around then, like Killer Bats, where he creates a perfume that only giant man-eating bats like, and then tricks all his enemies into dabbing a little of it on their necks – “Right on the tenderest part, please,” he’d always instruct them! Ha ha!

But The Man They Could Not Hang is a little better than that! Boris plays a kindly scientist, Dr. Savaard, who creates an artificial heart that looks like a pair of swinging glass testicles, which he determines would be a good way to revive people from the dead! A medical student volunteers to test this for him, so Boris kills him with gas – but before he can do the revivification, his dumb nurse has panicked and hightailed it for the police! The coppers won’t listen to Dr. Savaard when he says he was just about to bring the guy back to life, and so they just let the poor medical student stay dead and put Savaard on trial for murder! He’s convicted by an all-white jury and then the next thing you know, they’re hooking him up to the old neck-stretcher!

Well, later Savaard’s assistant gets those glass balls a-swingin’ and soon the doc is fighting fit again, though he walks around with his head at a bit of a right angle, as though he’s got a pretty bad kink in his neck! He’s really bitter too, about being executed and all that, and the only thing he wants to do is kill, kill, kill! He invites all those who participated in his demise for a dinner party, and then starts killing them one by one! I won’t tell you how it ends, but there are complications in Dr. Savaard’s plan!

The movie was directed by a guy named Nick Grindé, and I’d say he did a pretty fair job of it! He even did another movie with Boris that was almost exactly the same about a year later! But I’d have liked to see a bit more atmosphere in the movie, like you might find in a Val Lewton picture or something! By the time Dr. Savaard has all his enemies trapped in a room and he’s zapping them with electrified gates or poking them with needles that pop out of telephone receivers (ouch!), it doesn’t much matter, but a bit more style in the early parts would have been most satisfying! There was one shot I thought was really neat – in the press room, just before the execution, the camera is kind of dutchy (which is to say tilted) and it straightens out slowly as it dollies back! Cool, and very ahead of its time! I give this movie two and a half useless, dangling nooses!

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