Mad or Driven Mad? – The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Boris Karloff as Dr. Savaard thinks that he has found a method to bring the dead back to life.  To do so he must first experiment and to do that, he needs a body.  So accepting the sacrifice of a young man, he proceeds to kill him as humanely as possible so that he might revive him soon after.  But fearing it will not work, the man’s fiancée goes to the police who promptly arrest Savaard for murder.  Convicted and condemning those who did so, the good doctor is hung by the neck until he is dead.  But according to Savaard, death is not final and soon all those that were responsible for his death will soon meet theirs.

Boris Karloff is fantastic in the role of the mad doctor who knows that his theories are correct.  His animated diatribes against the cruelties and foolishness of mankind are a wonderful bit of acting on the veteran’s part.  Karloff is always the center of attention in any film he happens to find himself in and is no less true of this film.

Written by Karl Brown, George Wallace Syre and Leslie T. White and directed by Nick Grinde, there are no wasted moments in this tightly packed little picture.  The trial is one of the better moments with Karloff as he faces off against Roger Pryor who plays the District Attorney, never believing for a second that Dr. Savaard could be right.  It is also quite the about-face and perhaps the best scene in the film when Pryor and company are locked up in the house and fearing for their lives, they now cannot help but face the truth of the moment with the good doctor standing before them.

There is no real female lead in the movie which is a shame, or even the status quo damsel in distress that you would usually see in such a film.  Lorna Gray who plays Savaard’s daughter Janet would come close to filling that role, but she has such a small part she is more of a supporting character than anything else.  When she was onscreen, Gray was good but it would have been nice if her role was a little weightier.

Released by Columbia Pictures, The Man They Could Not Hang is not a very long film, running just over an hour, but it is one of the  better films from Boris Karloff’s early years.  In the end, the movie became a satisfying blend of suspense, horror, science-fiction and drama, and though a little dated with its science, is a perfect example of what a good script and good actors can accomplish in a B film.

4 out of 5

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