Thursday 11 January 2007

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

Frozen therapy is here apparently in the modern era of 1940. It roughly equates to the common modern cartoon version of cryogenics, where subjects aren't cured but put into suspended animation through being frozen until such time as a cure may have been discovered. However in this instance the suspended animation itself is the cure: merely freezing someone for five days is enough to stimulate the good tissue and kill off the diseased tissue. Or at least that's what the journalists think, though the doctor involved, Dr Tim Mason, freely points out that it's just a temporary thing.

He also points out that everything he's done has been inspired by a book, the work of a mysterious hermit of a scientist who disappeared ten years earlier and Mason can't trace. However all the misleading publicity leads Mason to get thrown into an involuntary sabbatical, so he and his nurse head on out to Silver Lake on the Canadian border to track down this recluse, Dr Kravaal, played naturally by Boris Karloff. Just as naturally Kravaal's island isn't quite as deserted as they might expect. Deep down under his mansion Kravaal is frozen solid in his refrigeration room, so they thaw him out and hear his story.

The Man with Nine Lives has an intriguing story that is unfortunately notably leading, especially in the early stages. The cast make the most of it through sheer earnestness and deserve something a little less clumsy because the performances are pretty good. The leads keep everything going nicely until the arrival of Karloff twenty minutes in. Dr Mason is Roger Pryor, known as the poor man's Clark Gable. Jo Ann Sayers, playing his fiancee, Judy the nurse, has everything it takes to have become a decent B movie staple but this was the last of only twelve films she made, before she retired young to marry.

And then there's Karloff. He's a mad scientist, have no doubts about that, but he's far from the usual sort of mad scientist. He wasn't mad until he was driven so by the unwelcome attention of idiots in authority. He has a noble cause in mind, the cure for cancer no less, and he only experiments with subjects willing to take part, until circumstances and the actions of others decree otherwise. In many ways he's the real hero here and the bad guys are the sheriff, the DA, the coroner and a rich man's nephew greedy for inheritance. Kravaal wants to give his cure to the world, free of charge, but that greedy nephew destroys his formula because it's pointed out that he's legally dead and thus can no longer inherit. How's that for mitigating circumstances? One man destroys your cure for cancer and you have a gun in your pocket. No, this definitely isn't your run of the mill mad scientist movie!

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