At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (KINO/Lorber)

By • Mar 14th, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes


When audio commentator Troy Howorth refers to protagonist Anton Diffring’s penchant for turning full-face into the close-up camera lens as ‘Shatneresque,’ (45:20) he won my approval. It was all gravy after that. His 83-minute lecture starts off a bit rough, with a fact here and there not fully developed, an errant observation repeated unnecessarily, but by the time he laid that juicy one on us he had found his stride, and how I wish the film were better, because this is an amusing and enlightening accompaniment to the visuals.

Indeed it’s the visuals that remain in one’s mind. Challenged by a painfully wordy script about sustaining one’s youth at the expense of others’ lives (later regurgitated in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STRANGLER), creative cinematographer Jack Asher goes all out with an at-times hallucinatory color palette (check out 51:25 for a doozy), and Art Director Bernard Robinson keeps right up with him. As Howorth points out, it’s the creative dedication of these men that gave Hammer its veneer of class, as much or more so than director Terence Fisher, who gave them their framing and verisimilitude. And with a dedicated staff such as they, and daringly forsaking the then-mandatory practice of hiring B-stars from America to punch up US sales, the first handful of Hammer Gothics – although no one apparently wanted the company to stay in that genre – were heads and tails above any horror flicks coming out of Hollywood (until Roger Corman descended on La La Land with his classy Poe/Price franchise).

Wonderful as the film is to look at, the print is not pristine. Generationally contrasty at times, it also occasionally (or consequently) over-exposes faces, which I doubt would have been Asher’s plan. I’m assuming the Paramount elements were not in the best of shape.

Peter Cushing begged out of TMWCCD, and as interesting as his replacement is, Anton Diffring is no PC. Jonathan Rigby, in a 16 minute filmed interview, calls Diffring’s emoting “an unmediated performance.” In particular, he’s not in the least sympathetic. Nor, really, is lovely Hazel Court (we hoped that her legendry nude shot would have found its way into this negative, but no such luck). Even elegant, disgruntled Christopher Lee fails to win our sympathies. So there’s no one to root for, and it’s painfully verbose — ah well, it’s still one for the Hammer completists, or for the genuine pleasure of basking in Asher’s color design without any narrative competition.

It’s certainly not that Barre Lyndon couldn’t write for film. Check out his script for George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). Same running time as TMWCCD, but it races along at breakneck speed from beginning to end. And I don’t think Jimmy Sangster’s adaptation was the problem either. It was taken from a play, and therein, I suspect, lies the fault.

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