The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

Without even knowing anything about the story or themes of “The Man Who Could Cheat Death”, you can already rest assured for 100% that the film will be a worthwhile, adequate and highly competent viewing experience. How so? Because this is a horror/Sci-Fi thriller produced by Hammer Studios during their absolute booming years (late 50’s – early 60’s) and involving a handful of their elite frequent collaborators. “The Man Who Could Cheat Death” is directed by no less then Terence Fisher, scripted by Jimmy Sangster and starring Christopher Lee and muse Hazel Court. In fact, the only one skipping this Hammer party is Peter Cushing, but apparently he didn’t like the principal role and dropped out in favor of the underrated Anton Diffring (“Circus of Horror”, “The Beast Must Die”). But even without Hammer and all the prominent names involved, this film was guaranteed to entertain. Horror stories centering on mad scientists desperately trying to obtain eternal life are always great fun, especially if their experiment require the lives of innocent others. Georges Bonner is such a brilliant mind who found immortality through a series of gland transplants from very reluctant donors. Immortality has its disadvantages, however, as Dr. Bonner is forced to start a whole new life somewhere else every ten years, and therefore must avoid falling in love with his model victims, and on top of everything he turns green and psychopathic near the end of the ten year period. At 104 years of age, he’s currently in the year 1890 in Paris and time is running out for him. Additional troubles arise when his loyal friend and surgeon Dr. Weiss has become too old and ill to perform another operation and Dr. Bonner bumps back into a past love interest. “The Man Who Could Cheat Death” opens very atmospheric, morbidly Victorian and very Hammer-like. The opening sequence is in fact another reference towards the contemporary Jack The Ripper murders, even though immediately after the action moves to Paris. Sadly, in spite of the very promising intro, it takes an awful long time before anything significantly happens after that. What follows is a lot of overlong and talkative sequences between Bonner and his long lost love interest, his new rival, his collaborator and even the police. The only truly horrific and tense moments occur when Dr. Bonner is in dire need of his life pro- longing serum. Whenever that happens, his face and hand turn bright green and he goes completely bonkers, killing victims through melting their skins by the bare touch of his hand. Despite the rather slow and uneventful first hour, “The Man Who Could Cheat Death” benefices from an exciting finale with a few gruesome moments and provocative make-up effects for the time. I’ve always thought of Anton Diffring as a very underrated horror actor, so I’m glad he appeared in the lead role of this Hammer production. Admittedly his performance is over-the-top occasionally, but at other times he’s definitely menacing and creepy. Christopher Lee is terrific as always, though this time in a seldom heroic and eloquent role. Around that time, he was mainly portraying monsters of all sorts in Hammer films. My personal favorite performance comes from Arnold Marlé as the intelligent but aging Dr. Ludwig Weiss.