England, 1872. The night before he is to be hanged for a murder he did not commit, young Dr. Gordon Ramsey is visited in his cell by his old mentor, eminent surgeon Sir Joel Cadmund. Cadmund offers to see that Ramsey gets a proper burial and gives him a sleeping powder to get him through the night, which Ramsey takes, unaware it is really an East Indian drug, "nind andhera" ("the black sleep"), which induces a deathlike state of anesthesia. Pronounced dead in his cell, he is turned over to Cadmund, who promptly revives him and takes him to his home in a remote abbey. Cadmund explains he believes Ramsey is innocent and needs his talents to help him in an project, which he is reluctant to immediately discuss further. In fact, Cadmund's wife lies in a coma from a deep-seated brain tumor, and he is attempting to find a safe surgical route to its site by experimenting on the brains of others, whom Ramsey comes to learn are alive during the process, anesthetized by the "black sleep", and ... Written by
Rich Wannen <RichWannen@worldnet.att.net>
Most ratings of this film give it a one star or bomb rating, however, "The Black Sleep" is not as bad as some would have you believe. Mind you it's not a great film, but in fact is an adequate programmer that compares favorably with any thing turned out by Universal or Monogram in the 40s.
Basically, it's a mad scientist film with Basil Rathbone emoting as usual, in the lead role. But then old Basil was always way over the top. Herbert Rudley is the nominal hero - the good scientist who is rescued from the gallows by Rathbone.
In the supporting cast are many seasoned veterans. Akim Tamiroff is good as the procurer of Rathbone's "subjects". Playing various mutants are Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine (in yet another over the top performance) and poor old Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi nearing the end of his life looks sick, tired and underweight. Chaney is totally wasted. Had the producers beefed up his part, "The Black Sleep could have been a much better picture. They could have combined his role with that of the Rudley character, for example.
Given all of its limitations, "The Black Sleep" is good way to pass an hour and twenty minutes if you don't expect too much going in.
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