The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) dir. Terence Fisher
Starring: Anton Diffring, Hazel Court and Christopher Lee
Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw
Even if “The Man Who Could Cheat Death” were an awful movie (and it is far from that), it would have one big thing going for it. Well, actually two big things – those soft, milky protuberances heaving ever so-delicately beneath the low-cut velvet dress of Heaven itself; namely, the breasts of that utterly flawless example of womanhood, Hazel Court. These bounteous pillows of perfection are, however, not all that mesmerize Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) the title character of this delicious Hammer Horror picture from master Terence Fisher. When his (and our) eyes gaze above her cleavage, then glide upwards along her perfect breastplate and delicate neck, they run smack into a delectable puss replete with full lips, exquisite cheek bones and eyes you want to dive into. There’s also that pile of soft scarlet atop her crown, tied and trussed in a manner that hints, ever so invitingly, at the cascading waterfall that awaits when the pins are removed and the locks tumble down. And beneath it all – beneath her upper bounties – is a svelte torso, supple, childbearing hips and, no doubt, other hidden fruits best left to our imaginations.
The estimable Miss Court as the comely model Janine Dubois makes her first appearance in the picture on the arm of the dashing Dr. Pierre Girard (Christopher Lee) during a private gathering in Bonnet’s home where the mad-scientist/artist is about to unveil his latest sculpture to a small, but admiring public of society people. It is obvious to all, including Girard, that she and Bonnet are former lovers and it is here we discover that Bonnet’s artistic output has been reserved to sculptures only of the upper portions of the most beautiful women imaginable. Once the party disbands, we are treated to the revelation that the 30-something Bonnet is, in fact, over 100 years old and that he’s found the secret to eternal youth through the occasional implantation of a fresh gland in addition to a lime-green potion. His goal is to steal, Janine from Pierre, implant a new gland – making her “immortal” – and to spend the rest of eternity in bliss.
And who wouldn’t want to spend an eternity with Hazel Court? Only a madman, right?
Well, there’s the rub. Implantation of the gland and adherence to steady doses of the lime-green bubbling Kool-Aid renders all those under its influence to go stark raving, psychotically bonkers. This, of course, will not do and it’s up to Girard (one of Christopher Lee’s few heroic roles) to save the day.
With a Jimmy Sangster screenplay adaptation of a creaky, but oddly literate play by Barre Lyndon (“The Man of Half Moon Street”, already made as a film in the 40s) is one part “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, with dashes of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Dracula”. It’s perfect material for Terence Fisher who delivered some of the finest and most stylish British horror films of all time. Though much of the action is constricted to a few rooms, it’s an always engaging thriller thanks, in part to Fisher’s splendid direction and, most of all, because of the superb cast. Peter Cushing look-alike Anton Diffring (star of the luridly magnificent “Circus of Horrors”) is the perfect tragic villain with his aquiline features and sorrowful eyes, Lee handles himself expertly as the hero and Miss Court is breathtakingly engaging in her role.
“The Man Who Could Cheat Death” is a welcome addition to Fisher’s fine work from the 50s (including “Curse of Frankenstein” and “Horror of Dracula”). In fact, it’s kind of cool seeing Fisher work his magic in a genre film that is bereft of an already identifiable monster (he also helmed versions of “The Mummy”, “The Werewolf” and “Phantom of the Opera”) and if the picture seems a trifle dated and a smidgen derivative, these are but minor flaws in an otherwise delightful chiller.
Besides, it stars Hazel Court and that is, of course, reason enough to see pretty much anything.
“The Man Who Could Cheat Death” is available on DVD from Legend Films.