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  Man They Could Not Hang, The Don't Leave Me Hanging
Year: 1939
Director: Nick Grinde
Stars: Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor, Don Beddoe, Ann Doran, Joe De Stefani, Charles Trowbridge, Byron Foulger, Dick Curtis, James Craig, John Tyrrell
Genre: Horror, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Doctor Henryk Savaard (Boris Karloff) is a scientist on a mission, to ensure nobody has to die needlessly ever again! To this end, he has arranged with one of his students to perform an experiment on him which will stop the student's heart, whereupon Savaard and his assistant will keep him in a kind of suspended animation for half an hour that involved a mechanical device to ensure he can be revived successfully. So it is that night that they set about their task, but they have made a mistake, they have told the student's highly strung girlfriend (Ann Doran) about their scheme, and she has convinced herself this is tantamount to murder, so once they begin she makes no hesitation in going to the police...

Boris Karloff looked to be heading on a downward spiral in the same way that Bela Lugosi had in the late thirties, the projects getting cheaper and cheaper and Poverty Row seemingly knocking on the door of his career. But then he had a stroke of luck when Columbia agreed to fund a series of quick, efficient mad scientist movies with decent enough budgets, and Karloff's status rose since they were popular with the public, allowing him a wider range of roles throughout the nineteen-forties and cementing his status as the king of Golden Age horror. Lugosi, meanwhile, never really recovered from the meagre budgeted pictures he was stuck in, B-movies that occasionally even paired him with Karloff, but never quite did the business for him as they had for his old screen rival.

Contrary to rumour, Karloff and Lugosi's relationship remained courteous and professional, and if asked about him in the years to come, Karloff would only comment, "Poor, poor Bela..." and refuse to be drawn further, maybe a case of "There but for the grace of God go I" for the British star. In The Man They Could Not Hang, the first of the Columbia mad scientist items, his character was an instant archetype, the man of science who is going out on a limb to rescue humanity from itself, yet is thwarted by the small minds around him who misinterpret his activities as the behaviour of a madman. Those small-minded folks are often the cause of a massive ruckus come the finale as Boris takes his bitter revenge for his hopes and dreams being ruined, though on a different tack, they livened up the final act.

Here Savaard is arrested by idiot cops thanks to the idiot girlfriend, and does not have the chance to revive the student, actually placing the audience in an interesting position, since we are sort of on his side when we can see how stupidity and refusal to listen has resulted in tragedy, yet are we supposed to support the doctor in his next endeavour too? Where he, inevitably for a Karloff movie, turns to murder? The middle section was more or less a courtroom drama, where Savaard pled his case and the prosecution and most of the jury want him dead for his wild ideas, and as such set out a moral quandary that in an alternative movie would have been a fruitful path to follow, but this was more caught up in the horror dynamic. This meant the last act was held back at the doc's old, dark house, where he assembled those who wronged him with an intent to murdering them - but how could he if he was meant to be executed for his perceived crimes? You'll have to watch and find out, in a divertingly freaky little piece with a performance of some gravitas from Karloff: it's debatable whether he needed to give this so much weight, but his professionalism did lift it considerably.

[This is included on the six film Blu-ray box set Karloff at Columbia from Eureka, and has these features:

O-Card Slipcase | All six films presented in 1080p across two Blu-ray discs | Optional English SDH subtitles | Brand new audio commentaries on The Black Room, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby | Brand new audio commentaries on The Man They Could Not Hang, The Man With Nine Lives, and The Devil Commands with author Stephen Jones and author / critic Kim Newman | PLUS: Collector's booklet featuring writing on all six films by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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