Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

One of the more minor and neglected Hammer Horrors gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD combo release courtesy of Eureka.

What doctors get up to in their spare time. And why not?

We’re in Paris in the year 1890. Physician Dr Georges Bonnet spends his spare time sculpting busts of his lovers when he isn’t intermittently rotting, necessitating repeated covert trips to his safe to guzzle a green smoking fluid that seems to be in worryingly short supply. Georges is currently awaiting the arrival of his colleague Dr Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle) and with good reason: although he looks 35, Bonnet is actually 104 years old and has been kept young by an operation the now 89 year old Weiss has been performing at ten year intervals. The surgery involves the replacement of a made up gland which Bonnet obtains from a living victim before fleeing whichever country he happens to be living in at the time.

Of course, too much sculpting can lead to trouble

But this time there’s a problem: Weiss has had a stroke and can’t perform the procedure. Can Dr Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee) be persuaded to pop another gland into Georges? Or will he raise a disdainful eyebrow before telling the police everything he knows, leading to an inevitable fiery climax where Georges ages rapidly before an imprisoned Hazel Court’s very eyes?

If you do the operation I'll let you sing...

Reteaming many of the cast and crew responsible for Hammer’s worldwide megahits of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, if nothing else THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH emphasises just how vital Peter Cushing was to the magic Hammer formula. Crying off this one with the entirely reasonable excuse of exhaustion, the leading role instead fell to Anton Diffring, who in this has a habit of delivering his most impassioned speeches to the stalls rather than to the actor standing next to him. 

The Man Who Cheated the Green Death?

         The film’s biggest problems, however, are the script and the source material. A remake of Paramount’s THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, which in itself started life as a play, the film suffers from being very stagey and far too talky, with little opportunity for the kind of lurid and gory action Hammer was already becoming famous for. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but if you’re anything other than a Hammer completist you may find yourself looking at your watch from time to time.

…and the end titles will be along any second now.

Eureka’s Blu-ray transfer doesn’t give us quite as good-looking an image as the recent releases of THE MUMMY or any of Hammer’s other late 1950s classics, but Jack Asher’s vivid colour photography does shine nicely here. Extras consist of interviews with Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby who both provide some nice background to the production as well as providing their own opinions as to how successful the Hammer version is. There’s also a nice booklet. 

Eureka Films are releasing Hammer's THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH on dual format Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD on 21st September 2015

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