Monday, 3 March 2014

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

A solid, if unspectacular, Hammer movie, The Man Who Could Cheat Death feels, in many ways, like a forerunner to the far superior Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde. There's the lead character who turns out to be a bit of a dabbling scientist, a potentially disastrous romance, and a bit of biological tinkering that leads to the death of numerous innocent women.

Anton Diffring plays the titular character. He also happens to be a celebrated artist, and travels around quite a lot. This is due to the fact that he's managed to stay surprisingly youthful for far longer than the laws of nature would dictate. He has help from Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle), but the main plan for the upcoming procedure needed to rejuvenate him involves Dr. Pierre Gerard (Christopher Lee). And if Dr. Gerrard doesn't play along then maybe the innocent Janine Du Bois (Hazel Court) can be used to persuade him.

Written by Jimmy Sangster, based on a play by Barré Lyndon, and directed by Terence Fisher, this is an enjoyable chiller with some great character interactions and one or two fine set-pieces. Unfortunately, it just doesn't do enough to make it memorable, even though it's not actually a BAD film.

Diffring is fine, but fans will always wonder what Peter Cushing (the first choice) would have done with the role, especially acting opposite Christopher Lee once more. And Lee is very good, in a non-villainous role. Marle is very enjoyable, and gets to deliver some great dialogue, while Court is suitably lovely. Francis De Wolff plays Inspector Legris, a man who sense that something is very wrong, but can't quite place his finger on the unbelievable truth.

It's unfair, perhaps, to say that having Cushing in the lead role would have been enough to elevate the whole movie, but it's also something that I can't quite stop considering. This is a film built around a few central characters discussing morality and mortality, and few actors could deliver any such lines better than Cushing.
As it is, The Man Who Could Cheat Death is still watchable. It's just not anything great.


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