Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (Terence Fisher, 1959)

Portrait of an artist as an old man hidden behind an illusion of flesh and bone, one gland away from the tomb. Director Terence Fisher directs this talky and rather mawkish tale of jealousy, betrayal, and temporary immortality.

Georges Bonnet is a renowned artist and doctor who has lived for over a hundred years. Every ten years, he must undergo an operation (that only his now elderly colleague can perform) to replace some mysterious gland in his abdomen. As the time grows ever closer for the surgery, he becomes devoured by madness and must drink a bubbling potion before he rots away.

The film begins in 19th century Paris as Bonnet greets his guests to reveal his new creation, a bust of the lovely Margo. But the sudden appearance of Janine (the beautiful and classy Hazel Court!) a past model and lover sparks his burning desire to stay alive...and give her his fleshy gland! The film has only a few sets and becomes too talky as characters regurgitate exposition, revealing the past and present tense through terse dialogue, thus suffocating suspense and interest. Anton Diffring portrays the antagonist Bonnet and is hilariously prone to starring off-camera in key scenes, while Christopher Lee is unceremoniously relegated to a secondary role (though he is magnificent, as usual). The narrative calculations just don’t add up as it attempts to multiply suspense by adding a Detective, hot on the trail of a missing women. The film is visually interesting with Hammer's slavish attention to period detail in the costumes and set designs.

Finally Bonnet is consumed in a squelchy and searing climax of gooey makeup and kerosene. The film builds to just this moment but fails to deliver a gory denouement and becomes a bit of a meltdown...err...letdown.

Final Grade: (D)

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