The Man They Could Not Hang

01/30/2018 07:24

Film: The Man They Could Not Hang

Year: 1939

Director: Nick Grinde

Writer: Karl Brown

Starring: Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray and Robert Wilcox



This film begins with a man arriving at a mansion, played by Joe De Stefani. He has a case with something in it. He goes inside and meets with a nurse, played by Ann Doran. We learn that her boyfriend is going to be killed by the doctor and then brought back to life. We then meet the scientist who is running this experiment; he is played by Boris Karloff. Doran leaves the mansion to get the police to stop him.

At the police station there is a reporter, Robert Wilcox, who is trying to get the police to give him something to write a story about. The cop he is with is played by Don Beddoe. Doran enters and tells them what is going on. They leave immediately to stop them.

Karloff’s daughter is home, played by Lorna Gray, and she knows what is going on. When the police arrive, he tells Stefani to flee out the back. Karloff is arrested for killing his assistant to conduct the experiment.

The film then shifts to the court room. The judge is played by Charles Trowbridge. The district attorney who is trying to prove Karloff’s guilt is played by Roger Pryor. The jury goes into deliberate and their foreman is played by Dick Curtis. There are a few jurors who don’t think he should be found guilty, but they relent to the others. Karloff is found guilty of murder. He talks before his sentence is handed down that he will get his revenge on them all.

Gray has become close to Wilcox during this whole trial and the night of his execution he takes her out to her aunt’s house to stay. Karloff also has a plan. He has allowed Stefani to take his remains after his death. He is then killed by hanging of the neck.

Stefani conducts the experiment they tried to do later. They try to use a glass heart, but it breaks under the pressure. While he believes it to be a failure, we see a needle jumping on an instrument. Karloff lives again. Stefani has performed a surgery while he was deceased and repaired his broken neck.

We then learn from Wilcox that there have been strange suicides among the jurors from Karloff’s trial. He finds this odd and he brings it to his editor. He tells Wilcox to pursue this story.

We then learn that Trowbridge, Pryor, Doran, Curtis and the rest of the jurors that thought he was guilty are invited to Karloff’s mansion. Wilcox comes too and with the help of Trowbridge, he is admitted to the mansion. It appears that all of the telegrams were sent at the same time and they were sent by different people to them.

Karloff reveals himself and tells them that there is a plot to kill them. When cards are given to them in the order they will die and when. The first one is Pryor as he is goaded into trying to leave. The gate is electrified though. Karloff sneaks off to a place where he can communicate with them and watch. Wilcox was not part of the original plan, but he will be killed too.

This plot does get thrown off when Gray returns to the mansion. Will those trapped inside make it out or will Karloff get his revenge on them all?

I have to say that at first I wasn’t all that impressed. The film moves very fast from the experiment through court and to him being brought back. That was until I see what the plan for the climax was. This film to me paves the way for The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Saw, in that he gets all those he wants to extract revenge, puts them in a house and then starts his game. The time it came out, they were limited in what they could do. The acting is pretty good and the story as well as concept is pretty solid. It does have a low running time so you can get through it quickly.

This film’s a little too short though. They move so rapidly to the climax that we don’t really get to see many of the deaths or get to learn about the victims that Karloff is getting his revenge on. I think a lot of this is due to the censorship office though. I also didn’t like the ending and was surprised at what they do. This film needed to have some more back-stories or subplots to really give it more life. I also had an issue that after Karloff’s execution, the radio makes an odd statement about what his last words were and that they were not meant to mean the curse he puts on them. It was something that would not be said on the radio like it was. I don’t like to lose some of the realism to just make the film seem much scarier.

With that said, this is an interesting film to watch. We have science and something that could be used for good, but is prevented due to the doctor’s need for revenge. I like Karloff in this film, especially his court room speech. The film is a quick view at barely over an hour. The film has a good concept that paves the way for films to come after. It could have done with some more back-story, subplots or show us more of the deaths. Censorship was an issue for films from the time period. I will warn you that this film is from the 1930s as well as in black and white, so keep that in mind as well.


My Rating: 7 out of 10