This blog is a place for Me to review classic British films (in particular horror films) by Hammer, Amicus and the like. But I will occasionally branch out and review international films as these are the international counterpart to the British films, some of which will include works by American International Pictures, Mario Bava et al. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Man Who Could Cheat Death


Paris 1890. Dr Bonnet (a scientist and an artist) is celebrating his latest sculpture. Little do people know that he is harbouring a dark secret, a secret that has allowed him to live to the ripe old age of 104, yet he only looks 35. Dr Bonnet has achieved this by replacing his glands every 10 years. But he needs living glands to replace his own with, hence he needs a living person every 10 years. As he has lived for a long time a pattern has began to emerge; every ten years a young woman goes missing who posed for an artist who was also a doctor, each missing person happened in a different place as Dr Bonnet has moved from place to place to keep a low profile. But now a detective is on his trail, and Dr Bonnet is in desperate need of a gland transplant as he's currently only surviving on a serum that keeps him alive for 6 hours per dosage.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death is a 1959 Hammer Production. It stars Anton Diffring, Hazel Court and Christopher Lee. It was directed by Terence Fisher. It's a remake of the 1945 film The Man in Half Moon Street which itself is based on a play of the same name.

Firsty, Anton Diffring is really good in this. Accompanied by his melodramatic acting and upper class German accent, he's great as the mad scientist (and artist) hell bent on living forever. His acting style and accent only help to aid the eeriness of his character. As far as I'm aware he wasn't in any other Hammers, which is a wonder because he's really good and it's just a shame he didn't get to feature in any others. He is in another British horror though, Circus of Horrors, which I'm now interested in seeing just because of him.

All hail the Hazel Court side boob. She's modelling for Dr Bonnet and as this is the early days of Hammer the extremity of nudity we get is a shot of Hazel Court's naked back with the glimpse of a side boob. Oh how this would change in future films, Hammers would come to be known for their violence and nudity.

I don't get why when Dr Bonnet is ageing up and going mouldy, if he touches someone they burn at his touch. Their skin literally scorches at his very touch. We see him do it to two people, now it looks good but I just don't get why it happens. The first time looks the best when he grabs a woman by her arm and puts his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming and it leaves a scorched hand print over her mouth.

The story seems quite similar to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both have a protagonist who has achieved a way of never ageing or dying, whether it be through the use of a painting or by simply getting a gland transplant every 10 years.

Now that's an interesting touch. As Dr Bonnet nears the end of his 10 years with one set of glands, he can survive on a serum but needs to take it every 6 hours otherwise he'll die. Now the bit that interested me is that if he doesn't take the serum then he'll begin to receive all 104 years at once as well as all the diseases and illnesses he has avoided over the years by getting his gland transplants. Now I'm guessing that's why when he touches people they burn, although that doesn't properly explain it it's the only explanation we get.

Now I don't get why the woman from the start, the first person we see Dr Bonnet kill, well I figured he'd killed her seen as he scorched her skin and then took her glands for himself, I don't get how she's still alive at the end of the film. Dr Bonnet has her in a cage but now she appears to have gone insane. Unlike the other part I pointed out earlier that confused me, this doesn't receive any form of explanation so it beats me.

This is a poor Hammer film and a big disappointment, I had such high expectations for it because after seeing the poster and the trailer I was left really looking forward to it and as such I expected it to be a pretty decent Hammer film but instead after seeing it I was left simply disappointed. There was stuff happening of course, but for most of the film there didn't seem to be a lot happening. At times (and it saddens me to say this) it was boring. It seemed to lack the entertainment and dynamism of other more well known Hammer films. Now by all means it wasn't terrible but I definitely wouldn't call it good. The ending seemed potentially promising and left me thinking (and hoping) it might pick up a bit, as in the final scenes we see a fire brake out and Dr Bonnet start to go full on mouldy, but even that was short lived. On a lighter note, I really enjoyed Anton Diffring's performance, he's great especially when he goes all wide eyed and stressed out because his serum has run out and he's beginning to age and go green. To sum up, I wouldn't recommend this Hammer film, maybe to an already established fan of Hammer, but to a new comer I can imagine it only putting them off Hammer before they've even tried some of the good ones.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death 2/5


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  2. Next time you watch this movie really pay attention to the discussions Dr. Georges Bonner has with both Dr. Ludwig Weiss and Dr. Pierre Gerrard. These are deeply philosophical discussions about what it means to live and the deep fear we all have of death. I should watch this with you and draw your attention to the mountains of awesomenss you're missing because you're expectations are so low. You want it to be a movie that it isn't and is clearly better for it.