Monday, February 9, 2009

Indestructible Man (Independent, 1956)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The last film on the disc was Indestructible Man (most citations refer to it with a definite article but there is no “the” in the actual main title on the film itself), a 1956 vehicle for Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role as Charles Benton, framed for murder by a crooked attorney and two gangland associates and sentenced to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin — but revived through electricity by a couple of scientists (Robert Shayne and Joe Flynn) searching for a cure for cancer. The treatment leaves his intelligence (if you can call it that) intact but burns out his voice (well, Chaney was used to playing mute characters, including the Frankenstein monster in one film and the Mummy Kharis in three), and Our Antihero promptly heads down to Los Angeles — stealing a car and killing its rightful owner in the process — so he can avenge himself against the three people who set him up.

This film was produced and directed by Jack Pollexfen (who five years earlier had produced the haunting sci-fi film The Man from Planet X for director Edgar G. Ulmer, and would probably have been better advised to get Ulmer to direct this one too) and written by Vy Russell and Sue Bradford. Most of the sources I’ve seen on it suggested it was a remake (of sorts) of Chaney’s 1941 Universal film Man-Made Monster, in which he was a sideshow performer, “The Electric Man,” framed for murder and electrocuted, only instead of killing him the electric chair transformed him into a lethal monster — but the two films have little in common except Chaney’s presence and the plot gimmick of a condemned murderer executed but revived through electricity.

Indestructible Man is much more a crime thriller than a horror film — indeed it freely mixes genres, being part horror film, part science-fiction, part Dragnet-style police procedural (it’s narrated in flashback by actor Casey Adams, who plays an LAPD detective in the clipped deadpan tones of Jack Webb’s Joe Friday) and part film noir (with Marion Carr as a stripper who has important clues on the case, whom the police detective first interviews, then befriends, and finally falls for and marries) — but it lacks the fun of a real genre-bender because it’s clear that instead of deliberately playing around with our genre expectations the writers and director are mixing these film types so indiscriminately simply from hunger, continually writing themselves into corners and reaching for the most readily handy film conventions to get themselves out again. And as Charles joked, it’s also bizarre that Chaney, by far the best actor in the film, should have been ordered to be mute through so much of it! — 10/23/02


Following Artists and Models, I made the mistake of showing Charles the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version of Indestructible Man, a movie we’d watched together “straight” before and one so boring and stupid that even the MST3K crew’s interjections couldn’t make it entertaining! I thought about this film pretty much the way I had before; it’s an obvious combined ripoff of The Walking Dead (Boris Karloff as an innocent man unjustly convicted and executed, who’s brought back to life by a scientist and turns into a vicious monster who targets the judge and jury responsible for his conviction) and Man-Made Monster (which featured the same star, Lon Chaney, Jr., as a man exposed to a giant dose of electricity and thereby turned into an electrical monster whose mere touch is fatal) and really a gangster film disguised as sci-fi/horror, since once Chaney is executed and brought back to life (by a couple of scientists whom he immediately murders — talk about ingratitude!) he acts just like a non-revivified gangster in one of those revenge plots that were already hackneyed when Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney did them without benefit of scientific revivification in the early 1930’s. The best joke was one in which one of the MST3K crew said that Chaney murdered one of his victims because the guy had told him, “Your dad was a better actor than you are!” — 2/9/09