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As a science fiction and shudder story buff, I thought this was the
best of Karloff's Columbia "B" pictures. The "Black Room" (1935),
"Behind the Mask" (1932), "The Devil Commands" (1941) (Probably my
second favorite), "The Man They Could Not Hang" (1939) (Probably a
close third favorite), and "Before I Hang" (1940). In terms of special
effects and plot outline, this one keeps you on the edge of your seat
to the very end.
The laboratory scenes in the proximity of a large underground glacier are unique. The chemistry lab including the "heavily concentrated poisons" is hair-raising indeed. With the right combination of lighting and shadow, as Karloff prepares the chemical experiments, the scenes within the underground laboratory are extremely eerie.
The maddest doctor of them all was clearly Boris Karloff.
Worth watching many times.
A doctor researching "frozen therapy" seeks out Boris Karloff, the therapy's originator. Boris has been missing from his island laboratory for ten years. After ignoring requests to stay off the island by locals, the doctor and his beautiful nurse discover Boris frozen in secret caves beneath the lab. Boris has been frozen along with a host of villagers. Through flashback it is learned these others came to arrest Boris for murder ten years earlier and they all wound up being gassed and frozen. This is the proof Karloff needs to vindicate his research. He sets out to duplicate his accidental results, his methods become increasingly Machiavellian. Ultimately he is his own undoing. This movie is hard to catagorize. The film makers tried to add shock to an interesting scifi story. The film succeeds in spite of the efforts to punch it up. The acting is uneven but overall this is a top notch "B" effort. The science is very plausible, a rarity in old laboratory films. See it and be pleasantly surprised
It's not exactly a major shock that Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist in this film, though it is very unusual the way he plays this role. Instead of the evil twisted genius set on making monsters or ruling the world, Karloff's goals are incredibly noble. And, when he later kills, you really understand with and could possibly condone why he did this. The moral implications of the film are astounding! As for the rest of the film, the writing for this sort of B-movie is very good, the acting fine and production values work out well (proving you don't need a huge budget to make a good film). About the only negatives at all are the ending (I would have just ended the film a minute or two earlier without the unnecessary final scene) and a mistake in the film about how deep the lab was under the earth. In the beginning, they count 191 steps to the bottom of the shaft to the lab, but later, it's just a homemade ladder about 12 feet long. Regardless, it didn't harm the film in any serious way and the film is a very good 'mad scientist' flick that actually is good entertainment and well thought-out.
This little known gem from 1940 is impressive for a few reasons: first, it stands head and shoulders above most of the B movies of the era, largely due to a good script and a great performance from Boris Karloff. Also, while made in the midst of the Universal horror period, it demonstrates some of the best elements of that genre, however it also pre-figures the oncoming decade of sci-fi flicks of the 50s, but with a more intelligent, and mysterious, plot than most of the B sci-fi films that followed. It also incorporates some noir elements such as shadowy images, gun play, etc. The Man with Nine Lives is also known under the alternative title Behind the Door (which is actually more accurate).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Perhaps the most notable of Karloff's 'mad doctor' films made at
Columbia: it's enjoyable along the way, with some good dialogue, but
the low-budget hurts the overall effort (though the ice-chamber set is
impressive and suitably atmospheric) and, in the end, it can't hold a
candle to his Universal films!
The plot is intriguing (though it necessitates that Karloff make a rather belated entrance) and the star is in top form in a role which, while confining him to one set, basically allows him to run the whole gamut of emotions (except maybe love, since he's made-up to look as an elderly man) from commitment to his cause to disappointment at other people's intolerance (especially a fellow doctor, who should know better!), from bitterness at being held from completing his experiments (first, by having his laboratory 'invaded' by authority figures out to arrest him and, then, by having his secret formula a cure for cancer! destroyed by a young man for purely selfish reasons: the boy's inheritance having slipped through his fingers because he has unaccountably gone 'missing' for 10 years, he's determined that Karloff won't have his day of glory either!!).
That said, the film's major fault apart from a lackluster supporting cast still lies within the plot itself, which I find to be chronically silly: when the hero and heroine want to go to Karloff's old place across the water, they're told off by a frightened boatman from the mainland (this ominous device works well in a Gothic setting but it's just stupid in a modern one though, to be fair to this film, it's also utilized in THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND ); the figures of authority are so one-dimensional (they're not prepared to listen to Karloff even after having themselves being miraculously revived talk of gratitude!) as to be really grating and I can't tell you how amused I was when, having it dawned on Karloff that none of them will be missed after all this time, he was free to use them as guinea pigs in his attempt to discover again, through trial and error(!), just what the ingredients of his formula were!! This latter element, however, is perhaps the film's most blatant 'boo-boo': when Karloff is revived, he tells our heroes what happened 10 years earlier and says that he remembered it all like it was yesterday in fact, in a flashback, we see him take note of the very ingredients which comprise the secret formula, down to the exact dose he needs from each of them for it to work but then, conveniently for plot purposes, he forgets when the others are revived as well and the paper ends up being thrown into the fire so, he has to start all over again!! Likewise, during the finale, after having seen a number of times already that it takes several hours for someone to be revived from freezing, the heroine regains consciousness in a matter of seconds just enough to allow the dying Karloff (having been shot by a brand new 'posse' arriving on the scene) to taste the success of his lifelong labor!!
With respect to the DVD transfer, since this was my first viewing of the film, I couldn't compare it to previous editions but, for the most part, I was pleased with the work Columbia has done on this low-budget item (except for the brief drop in quality during the final reel that was mentioned in reviews when the disc first came out). However, I have to report a glitch: at around the 8:15 mark (when the head doctor sends off Dr. Mason on forced vacation leave), the picture froze for an instant and then continued; after I finished watching the film, I took out the disc and noticed a tiny speck of dust on its reading surface which I'm sure wasn't there when I inserted it! Anyway, after I wiped it off, I tried it out again and this time the disc not only froze permanently at the same point but a hideous noise emanated from the DVD player my heart almost stopped!! Still, I persisted and made yet another attempt and, now, the picture froze momentarily but resumed soon after...as it had done the first time around! That ghastly sound-thing only happened to me once before with Image's double-feature disc of Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972)/THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975)...albeit only upon my second viewing of that DVD! (This never used to happen with VHS, that's for sure! God, I hate technology )
"The Man with Nine Lives" (1940) is an impressive sci-fi film. Several
aspects of it stand out. Boris Karloff gives a wonderful performance in
a role that requires him to be both a good guy and a bad guy in the
same person. This role requires that he display a wide range of
emotions and moral stances, and he does so with great skill. His
specialty as a doctor is cryogenics applied to human beings. The story
calls for a very cold storeroom and the film shows a completely
realistic one, with thick ice, icicles and frost. This alone is worth
seeing in the film. One wonders how the actors kept from shivering and
catching colds. The story ably contrasts the endeavors of the
intelligent lone wolf doctor with the narrow-minded and hidebound types
surrounding him. Another impressive aspect of the plot is how
intelligently it raises and deals with moral issues. Karloff goes
through several moral changes as circumstances change, and so does
Roger Pryor, the doctor who has rediscovered Karloff and his work. The
motivations of Karloff change as circumstances change, and we see and
understand them. At times, he's completely reasonable and contained but
when his desire to solve a scientific puzzle takes over, he can be
dangerous. The story itself is an intriguing tale with unexpected but
At the beginning of the movie, we see Roger Pryor as a doctor who has found that cancer can be arrested by cooling down the patient. His guide is a book by Karloff, who has dropped out of view for 10 years. The scenes showing Pryor cooling down a patient are unintentionally funny by being so unsophisticated. The nurses are piling ice cubes on the patient. He's adjusting the patient's body temperature with these ice cubes. Later he revives the patient with hot coffee. When we get to Pryor's encounter with Karloff, everything is far more sophisticated and believable.
Karloff starred in a number of these smaller films, and they're all worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dr. Leon Kraval (Boris Karloff) has developed a radical means of
treating cancer using a freezing therapy. But before he can prove the
success of his procedure he is accused of murder. An accident in his
lab locks him, his accuser, the judge, the coroner, and the sheriff in
his hidden freezing chamber. All are declared missing and presumed
dead. Ten years later another doctor is onto the same research and
decides to visit the now derelict home of Dr. Kraval in search of his
secrets. What he doesn't expect to find is Dr. Kraval, frozen but
alive, and ready to continue his experiments on his human guinea pigs.
Anytime a new Boris Karloff movie that I haven't seen is set to release on DVD, there's reason for me to rejoice. It's rare that the man and his work have ever let me down. To say that I was under whelmed by The Man with Nine Lives would be an understatement. There's just not much here to get excited about. I wasn't expecting the second coming of Karloff's Frankenstein monster, but I had hoped for a lively, engrossing story. To put it kindly, much of the the movie is dull. A portion of the enjoyment I was able to derive from the movie came from my almost fanboy like appreciation of Karloff and his work. The man simply amazes me every time I see him on screen. Which makes it amazing to me that my favorite part of the movie was the exploration of the Kraval's house that actually takes place before Karloff makes his appearance.
It wouldn't be fair to discuss The Man with Nine Lives without mentioning the set design. It's the real highlight of the movie. I've already mentioned the house. In old, dark house fashion, it's riddled with secret passages and mysterious locked doors. But the best part of the set design had to be the freezing rooms that were supposedly carved out of a glacier. To my untrained eye, I found them very believable and authentic looking. Very nice.
Nick Grinde once again directs Boris Karloff, this time as Dr. Kravaal, a pioneer in cryogenic research who was interrupted in his cancer research when a relative of the wealthy man he was operating on brings in the authorities, who force Kravaal to take them to his island home to prove his work viable. Unfortunately, their interference leads to the patient's death, and all five men end up frozen for 10 years, until Dr. Mason(played by Roger Pryor) and Nurse Blair(played by Joanne Sayers) visit his home and revive him, but Kravaal picks up right where he left off, endangering all their lives... Good thriller with another fine performance from Karloff; good sets and atmosphere aid imaginative plot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the vantage point of today (6/21/2014) as I write this, it seems
incredible that a film made in 1940 treated the subject of cryogenics
as if it were as common as, well, the common cold. The opening scroll
mentioned that medical science agreed that disease can be arrested and
life can be prolonged by freezing human beings. I'm aware that the
concept is still being researched with significant results, as in
lowering body temperature to treat victims of drowning, but you'd think
a whole lot more progress might have been made by now.
Well I'm surprised it took me so long to run across this little Karloff gem. It turned up this morning of all places on Antenna TV, generally better known for it's airing of old TV programs from the Sixties. Actually it was in the Sixties when my dad gave me the run down on actors like Karloff, Chaney and Lugosi and I've been a fan ever since. The film includes elements of horror and sci-fi with a little bit of murder mystery to boot, featuring Karloff once again as a mad, but seemingly normal scientist working for the betterment of humanity. It's only when his work is threatened that he resorts to killing an antagonist. Actually, the scene where he shoots Bob Adams (Stanley Brown), in the back no less for destroying his formula, seemed to me to be a bit over the top. Granted, I'd be PO'd too, but gee, I don't think I'd kill anybody over it.
Probably the best part of this flick was the set design of Dr. Leon Kravaal's (Karloff) impressive lab, one of the better ones this side of Frankenstein. And not just one, he had multiple labs in different parts of his house. Which made me wonder, how long would it have taken the good doctor to set up his working lab through a secret tunnel and another hundred feet under ground? That's some kind of dedication.
There were other things I had to think about as well as the story got under way. Why would Dr. Mason (Roger Pryor) and his nurse/fiancée Judy Blair (Jo Ann Sayers) embark on their mission to find Dr. Kravaal's missing research wearing business suits. That seemed just a little too formal for me, particularly when they started crawling around through Kravaal's tunnels and labs. Not that this was unusual for films of the era, but I don't understand what would motivate anyone to be attired that way.
But you know what really blew me away? When the doc and his assistant rented the boat from old Pete Daggett (Ernie Adams), do you know what the fee was - twenty five cents per hour plus a dollar deposit!!! Holy smokes, and I thought the whole concept of freezing human bodies was scary!
A doctor (Roger Pryor) studying cryogenics visits the deserted home of
Dr. Leon Kravaal (Boris Karloff), a pioneer in the field who went
missing ten years before. Uncovering a secret passage in the basement,
he and his nurse girlfriend (Jo Ann Sayers) find Kravaal and four other
men frozen in ice. They successfully revive Kravaal, who then revives
the others. It turns out Kravaal had frozen himself and the others
years before when they tried to arrest him. So now the somewhat mad
doctor holds them all hostage while he tries to recover his original
Very interesting and entertaining Karloff mad scientist movie. The subject of cryogenics (never called that here, just frozen therapy) is ahead of its time. The rest of the cast is fine but obviously it's Karloff's show the whole way. Intriguing premise with fun execution. A solid "B" movie that's highly enjoyable.
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