The film came from the Barré Lyndon play, The Man in Half Moon Street, and was adapted to screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. The film was directed by Terrence Fisher. It has been said that there are only so many drama plots in the world and this, as can be seen from the title, is about our desire to, if not live forever, then certainly to extend our lives considerably beyond the norm. Oscar Wilde did it with The Picture of Dorian Gray and I remember enjoying greatly The Man from Earth (2007) which was written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Richard Schenkman. I’m not sure that that film didn’t come from a play (it all takes place in one room) but they did a better job of it.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death is set in Paris in 1890 and sculptor, George Bonnet (Anton Diffring) has found the method to halt the ageing process but, unfortunately, it involves murdering young women and extracting their parathyroid gland to create the drug which will permanently prolong his life provided a young woman is bumped off at regular intervals.
One really does want to be kind, because the late, great Christopher Lee is a supporting actor, or maybe a star. Lee’s acting is the best. One gets an impression that Anton Diffring is simply playing one of his nasty Nazis. The trouble with this film is that the acting is a shade wooden with a few plummy, clipped accents to go with it.
I do really wish I could praise this up and so here comes some praise. Obviously it’s always great seeing one of the old Hammer films which seemed to be as much a part of Britain as Butlins Holiday Camps and fish and chips. The sets are all nice and well-lit to provide the required horror atmosphere.
The Extras are a bit sparse and comprise interviews with film historians Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby. Rigby notes that The Man Who Could Cheat Death was a somewhat “loose adaptation” of the original Lyndon play. He makes an interesting point that Christopher Lee, then aged 17, actually attended the original play in 1939. Newman suggests that Lee would have been unlikely to have imagined himself acting in a British film production of the play 19 years later.
He observes that the gothic archetype is the wandering Jew, condemned to live forever unless he can offload his curse onto someone else.
Rigby observes that there was a vogue in the 1920s for “rejuvenation treatment” using monkey glands and this was likely to have been an influence on Lyndon and his original play.
Hammer Film aficionados will enjoy this DVD.
Apparently there were two versions of this film – one which showed one of the ladies topless and one that didn’t. Now I had hoped (!) that this was the former version. Well, I don’t want it to be a spoiler, but yes, she is topless, but framed so as to be nipple-free.
This is an excellent transfer from the original – no scratches or blobs to be seen. The music quality doesn’t sound wonderful, but it was mono sound then.
Once again Eureka! have created a wonderful accompanying booklet. They really do excel at this – the DVD is worth it just for the book. I take my hat off to them.
The film is entertaining enough and will be particularly enjoyed by all those Hammer Film lovers.
Review by Eric Jukes
The Man Who Could Cheat Death is out now in a dual-format edition.