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The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

Approved | | Drama , Horror , Sci-Fi | June 1959 (USA)
A centenarian artist and scientist in 1890 Paris maintains his youth and health by periodically replacing a gland with that of a living person.

Director:

Terence Fisher

Writers:

Jimmy Sangster (screenplay), Barré Lyndon (play) (as Barre Lyndon)
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Anton Diffring ... Dr. Georges Bonnet
Hazel Court ... Janine Du Bois
Christopher Lee ... Dr. Pierre Gerrard
Arnold Marlé Arnold Marlé ... Dr. Ludwig Weiss (as Arnold Marle)
Delphi Lawrence Delphi Lawrence ... Margo Philippe
Francis De Wolff Francis De Wolff ... Inspector Legris
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Storyline

A remake of "The Man in Half Moon Street" (1945) (qv.). Dr. Bonner plans to live forever through periodic gland transplants from younger, healthier human victims. Bonner looks about 40; he's really 104 years old. But people are starting to get suspicious, and he may not make 200. Written by Mike Rogers <MICHAELPEM@aol.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

HIS HIDEOUS OBSESSION LED HIM TO COMMIT GHASTLY CRIMES OF PASSION AND VIOLENCE. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Horror | Sci-Fi

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

June 1959 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Den Tod überlistet See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

£84,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Hammer Films See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ludwig Weiss was born in 1801. See more »

Goofs

The prostitute says to George to watch out for the 'dust bins' in the dark alley. The term is common to England but not France. See more »

Quotes

Dr. Georges Bonner: [Before unveiling the bust] I would like to say at this stage that any credit due for what you are about to see should be laid at the feet of my charming young model. An artist cannot form a thing of beauty unless he has a thing of beauty from which to draw inspiration.
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Alternate Versions

The "European" print of the film includes scenes of a topless . See more »

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User Reviews

 
THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (Terence Fisher, 1959) ***
24 October 2011 | by Bunuel1976See all my reviews

This is among the first Hammer Horrors I watched but, after checking it out twice on Italian TV as a kid (once as part of a late-night horror programme called "Zio Tibia Horror Picture Show" featuring a couple of amiably grotesque puppets, which is how I first caught up with the likes of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN {1935} and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN {1942}!), the film seems to have dropped off the radar completely in my neck of the woods; finally, it was recently released on R1 DVD by Legend Films since this was the only title from the legendary British company to be distributed by Paramount. It is actually the third version of Barre' Lyndon's play "The Man In Half Moon Street", first filmed in Hollywood in 1943 (albeit only released a couple of years later!) and again for British TV in which Anton Diffring, the star here, actually originated his role (for whatever reason, the name of the protagonist changes from one version to the other!); even so, Hammer's then top leading man Peter Cushing was supposed to play the part but, thankfully, saner minds prevailed as I am not sure he would have been ideal as a ladies' man (the heroine, then, is future "Queen Of Horror" Hazel Court in her last of 2 films for Hammer). It is interesting to have Hammer still adapting stuff from TV at this point, even after they hit the jackpot with reinventing the classic Gothic literary tales!

Anyway, having just watched the earlier movie, it is quite clear which is the superior version since Jimmy Sangster's excellent script deals far more thoroughly with the themes inherent in Lyndon's source…which, as mentioned in my review of the original, draws quite a bit from Oscar Wilde's "The Picture Of Dorian Gray" – though, this being Hammer, the horror aspect (aided by Fisher's typically full-blooded handling and Diffring's intense characterization) is a lot more pronounced. That said, Diffring is ably supported by Christopher Lee (who, despite having attained star status thanks to Hammer, generously accepted a supporting and heroic role this time around: oddly enough, his doctor character here shares his name with another one he would play in the later, similarly Sangster-scripted Hammer chiller TASTE OF FEAR {1961}!) and Arnold Marle' (who also reprised his role from the TV version as Diffring's elderly associate).

Being a relatively early genre effort by the company, the color palette is very handsome, effectively rendering both the late 19th century Parisian setting and the moments of pure horror, notably the greenish hue emitted by the boiling flask which holds Diffring's life-sustaining serum. Incidentally, while the protagonist of the 1945 version was really a 90-year old, here he is made to be 104 (and it is amusing to watch Diffring try to convince Lee that he is actually a good 15 years older than the stroke-stricken Marle'); again, the protagonist has a dual career as an artist (though he is a sculptor now rather than a painter) but, inconveniently, his models all fall for him and have to be disposed of (which is one of the clues the Police – represented by Francis De Wolff – eventually follow). Here, too, the gland operation is good for a whole decade but, in this case, we are better able to accept the fact that in the interim he tries to rebuild his life, not to mention that when the effect begins to dissipate and Marle' has still not turned up to perform the life-saving operation, he is forced to kill and kill again because the gland withers after a few days!

Among the number of differences between the two movie versions one finds that, in the 1945 movie, when the protagonist's colleague is unable to operate, he has to rely on a young man he saves from suicide and who just happens to be a medical student (after having gone through a list of disgraced members of the profession), whereas here it is Lee who gets asked (who is in love with Court herself, naturally) but initially refuses (so that Diffring has to refer to an alcoholic doctor and, bafflingly, an oculist!). Here, too, he does operate eventually but he does not perform the gland transplant, which obviously proves Diffring's undoing; the latter comeuppance is quite messy (much more horrific, in fact, than the original's) – involving both the age reversal (featuring great make-up effects by Roy Ashton) and his being set on fire by a model he had kept imprisoned (and deformed, since apparently his skin becomes abrasive as the effects of the drug fade!) after she discovered his secret.

Diffring would follow this with an even more notorious genre outing, CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960), but he never quite became a star (being too often relegated to playing Nazi officials in Hollywood WWII epics); even so, later horror titles of his include MARK OF THE DEVIL PART 2 (1973; which I will be getting to presently), THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974; for Hammer rival Amicus and with Peter Cushing!) and Jess Franco's FACELESS (1987; which also sees him involved in unethical operations spiced with a series of murders). Incidentally, following these viewings, I am also in the process of acquiring Ruggero Deodato's belated giallo PHANTOM OF DEATH (1988) starring Michael York, Edwige Fenech and Donald Pleasance in view of its apparent thematic similarity to the Barre' Lyndon play.


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