BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH

By • Nov 1st, 2008 •

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For many years this title had made its way to collectors via the ‘grey market’ (boy! I just love this PC term, don’t you?) vhs/dvdr transfers taken from Cinemax broadcasts. But now it is another exciting release from Legend Films, who has obtained a package of Paramount films, in a decent authorized DVD transfer. Terence Fisher’s Hammer Film production THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959), while not a totally perfect experience, is still a total joy not only for fans of Hammer, but lovers of fantasy cinema in general.

The plot is simple and straight-forward. Paris, 1890: Doctor George Bonnet (Anton Diffring), a famed surgeon and artist, while physically appearing to be in his thirties, is actually 104 years old. An experimental procedure done long before has not only stopped the aging process but held off all physical ailments as well. Drinking a green, bubbling solution every six hours keeps the process stable but, unbeknownst to the scientist, a gradual madness has slowly taken effect as well, resulting in several murders.

During an exhibit of his latest sculptures, Bonnet runs into his former model, Janine Dubois (Hazel Court), who he had fallen in love with, and her companion, Doctor Pierre Gerard (Christopher Lee). They connect, causing jealous current model Margo Phillipe (Delphie Lawrence) to confront Bonnet after the others have gone. Bonnet goes into a regressive fit and tries to silence the screaming model (when he puts his hand across her mouth his skin takes on a corrosive effect – burning his hand print across her face). He then hides the now totally insane girl away in a storage area and waits for his old friend, Doctor Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle), to replace the gland via surgery. To his horror, Weiss had suffered a stroke that makes it impossible to perform the operation and later, after discovering that Bonnet had murdered to obtain a gland, refuses to help his friend, with tragic results.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, based upon a play by Barre’ Lyndon (who also wrote DARK INTRUDER, reviewed elsewhere in FIR), and scripted by Hammer vet Jimmy Sangster, lacks the action seen in other Hammer productions, resulting in a talkative storyline. But Terence Fisher does his best with the script and there are some terrific scenes (the confrontation between Margo and Bonnet, the transformation scene at the fire shrouded climax, and especially the use of green lighting on Diffring’s face, by cinematographer Jack Asher, as our protagonist goes into one of his pain-wracked episodes.)

The cast imbues the storyline with interest but, with the exception of Hazel Court, are fairly one-dimensional. Anton Diffring, an excellent actor if given the right script, chews up the scenery as the insane Bonnet (he had acquitted himself well on Hammer’s TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN, a tv pilot co-produced by Universal Pictures for a proposed series that never sold) with his distended eyes and cries of anguish. You really don’t see the dedicated scientist he started out as, trying to help mankind. Arnold Marle, reprising his wise old scientist role from CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, offers a sincere performance but pretty much falls by the wayside as the film progresses (his best Hammer role was the High Lama in THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS). Christopher Lee comes across pretty stiff, if not outright insufferable, in his manner, and it is the very lovely Hazel Court as Janine Dubois who steals our attention – an aggressive, liberated women who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even using her sexuality. Sadly, Ms. Court died this year (April 15, 2008) and she will be missed by fans across the globe. Other cast members include Francis De Wolff as Inspector Legris (best known to fans as Doctor Mortimer in Fisher’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), and Michael Ripper as a morgue attendant.

The Legend Films DVD transfer is up a few points from the Cinemax broadcast, at a nice 1:66:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, but I noticed some grain and scratches, things a digital overhaul could have done wonders to in not only cleaning up the imperfections but tweaking the colour level just a tad. Fans hoping to see Hazel Court’s topless scene will be disappointed here – this is taken from the US release print (The Hammer magazine, “LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS” ran a colour shot of it in issue 16).

The audio, Dolby Digital Mono English, sounds wonderful with little distortion when cranked up. Sadly, no trailer is included or any extras, but despite this, the DVD is worth obtaining and can be found at Best Buy or at www.legendfilms.net. So for film buffs everywhere, sit back and enjoy the show!

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