THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

Oooh! A new Hammer Blu-ray and a seldom seen one at that. From the late-‘50s heyday too. They’d done Frankie and Drac’ and were looking for some new material. What better idea than to effectively re-make a relatively obscure 1945 movie? (The Man in Half Moon Street that was itself a sort of Dorian Gray-lite) While that might sound like a daft idea, when you think about, it was actually right up Hammer’s street: a genuinely Gothic story with not-quite-classic origins and a perfect excuse for a lurid climax with some form of disintegration. Blimey, that was a Hammer speciality. Nothing could go wrong. Could it?

Georges Bonnet (Diffring) is a Paris-based sculptor with a secret. He’s 104-years old but keeps himself youthful by replacing his parathyroid gland (or something) on a regular basis. Obviously this involves a bit fog-bound street murder and, if it’s not going to plan, he keeps himself going with glass of green bubbly stuff. But he also needs someone to perform the operation and his old mucker (Marlé) is understandably getting a bit too doddery to be doing that sort of thing as he’s nearly as old as Georges but never did the gland thing. So he needs to get another surgeon (Lee) to do it but it’s a bit awkward as a) he doesn’t want to and b) he’s a rival for the affections of the beautiful Janine (Court). Did we mention Georges was a bit of a ladies’ man? Well he’s had enough practice so unsurprising really.

With Big Chris and the original Hammer-girl herself on board, you’d think this was surefire stuff. It’s even Sangster and Fisher on writing and directing duties. While not every Hammer was a zinger, it was only when they were doing (yet) another Drac’ or Frankie that they might just go through the motions. New material usually kept it interesting. Check out The Gorgon (1964) or The Reptile (1966) for Hammer at its most enthusiastic. But here we seem to be lacking something. Diffring is a dull lead in this role and the cast just doesn’t seem to gel. There should be sparks when he’s up against Chris but they just look like they’re bored at a time when Hammer-horror was still new. No Michael Ripper either.

But it’s not a total disaster. Things to pick up towards the end and there is at least some chemistry between Big Chris and the nearly-as-big Francis de Wolff as the police inspector puzzling over the fact that his chief suspect in a series of murders would have to be a centenarian to have carried them all out.  The climax is actually top Hammer stuff with an inevitable disintegration of apocalyptic quality. They were always good at those. Chuck in Hazel Court looking stunning (fantastic outfit in the final section) and you’ve got something watchable if disappointing for those of us who love a Hammer. Oh, and the continental release of this apparently featured Hazel topless when she poses for Georges sculpture. We never got that version so here it’s one of the disc’s extras. [Really?! – Ed] No, I made that up. It’s lost. [Awww... – Ed]

Extras: Interviews with Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby, booklet and absolutely no deleted scenes of Hazel Court. Sorry.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) / DIRECTOR: TERENCE FISHER / SCREENPLAY: JIMMY SANGSTER / STARRING: ANTON DIFFRING, HAZEL COURT, CHRISTOPHER LEE, ARNOLD MARLÉ, DELPHI LAWRENCE, FRANCIS DE WOLFF / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 21ST



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