Only Good Intentions – Before I Hang (1940)

Before I Hang finds poor Boris Karloff ready to go to jail, sentenced to death for a murder which he did commit, but one he deemed merciful and without malice.  How did the victim die?  After being a test subject for Dr. Garth, in the hopes to find a cure which would essentially be a fountain of youth, the pain was too much and Dr. Garth put the man out of his misery.  While in jail, three weeks before he is set to be executed, the warden finds that Garth cannot go to the grave without first finishing his research.  The problem is, after finding said miracle, it now requires a human test subject and who better than Garth himself as he is set to die.  But lo and behold, his sentence is commuted and now Garth can continue on with his experiments.  There is one problem though, the serum he injected himself with was mixed with the blood of a criminal and soon, Garth cannot help himself as he starts to murder people, within and without the prison as soon as he is soon pardoned.

Karloff always plays the unwilling villain quite well.  He does not want to do what he does, but cannot help but do so, making himself the victim as well.  And in this film it is almost a Jekyll and Hyde type situation, as soon as he wants to help out his friends, he ends up killing them instead.  Not the safest guy to be around.  At times, Karloff seems almost Shakespearean in his delivery of the lines which lends credence and believability to his situation.  He is earnest and desperate almost for his cure to work and he wants to help save the world, but with the monster inside of him so to speak, it is just not possible.

The film, in black and white of course, is very pensive and gloomy almost, and sets the tone of the movie beautifully.  It is dark and quiet when Garth is experimenting or killing and lit up, almost hopeful when he is being the man he always was, not quite understanding why things are happening the way they are and wondering what to do about it.  Nick Grinde does a great job of bringing this across to the viewer, often focusing upon Karloff no matter who is supposed to be the focal point, giving us that sense of unease, as if anything could happen at any time.  Evelyn Keyes also starred as Garth’s daughter, playing the worried family member to perfection.  It is a shame she never became a true leading lady, often found in films such as these, as she had the looks and talent to do so.  But ‘B’ films need good looking and talented ladies as well, and this film benefits for it.

When Karloff plays the mad doctor type of role, you know you are in for a good time as you get to experience the man without any sort of gimmick.  You get the man himself which is more than enough and in this type of film, that is something you need.  Karloff was an exceptionally talented actor and Before I Hang proves it once more.

4.5 out of 5

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