Thursday, 18 February 2016
The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)
"I always have a small one before I operate..."
This early Hammer is a bit odd: the opening is genuinely atmospheric, the style of the titles is very Hammer and it feels like an early Hammer. But it's not really a horror film in that there little suspense- and the lack of suspense makes for a short film that feels so much longer. It really drags.
Christopher Lee is good as Pierre, the dignified hero (yes, he plays a hero!), while Anton Diffring phones it in as evil surgeon Georges, who is 104 but looks about 35, having achieved immortality by means of murdering a woman every ten years, and has an inexplicably German accent. Hazel Court impresses as Janine, the female love interest who... well, that basically sums up the character.
The basic plot, from a play by Barre Lyndon, should in theory make a good film in the same way Jekyll and Hyde has several times and yes, there's atmosphere, but the problem is there's never any suspense- and Diffring just doesn't have the charisma to carry the film. The result is a distinct lack of excitement, a rarity with early Hammer when the quality was generally high.
The film's riff on immortality achieved by the murder of others is hardly original although, with its murders of women including a prostitute in the Paris of 1890, and given Robert Holmes' fondness for Hammer, it's a probable influence on the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang.