Review: THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959)

While it’s heavy on dialogue and light on explicit horror, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is a captivating picture from Hammer Film Productions. The 1959 movie is directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. It’s based on Barré Lyndon’s play THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, which was made into a Ralph Murphy movie in 1945. Watching the Fisher flick, it’s easy to see its theatrical components in the prolonged conversations and minimalistic set pieces.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH concerns Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring), a sculptor living in Paris. He’s pursued by pretty Janine (Hazel Court), but there’s a problem: Georges is a ripe 104. He’s been keeping himself looking like a young buck with the help of parathyroid glands, which he procures from various victims. Georges has been counting on Professor Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé) to do the deed, but the fellow is getting old. He turns to Dr. Pierre Gerard (Christopher Lee) instead, but there are complications.

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Diffring’s Bonnet is a compelling character in that he is motivated by his fear of death. He has an extensive conversation with Professor Weiss and their complementary views make for stimulating fodder. Weiss, with death imminent, isn’t afraid of what’s on the other side. Georges, on the other hand, is obsessed with staying young. The solitude he suffers from is something he’s willing to endure, but you can tell it’s catching up with him. Relocation isn’t easy and Georges’ evolving feelings for Janine aren’t helping.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is more interested in ethics than horror and that’s okay, especially because Fisher does deliver a finale that burns it all down. The best pieces come with Bonnet extenuating his existence. He finds a submissive collaborator with Weiss, but Lee’s Dr. Gerard is a tougher sell. Georges’ conceit is palpable; he believes he deserves the gift of immortality and makes a moral argument as to why the easing of illness is not the best thing for humanity. And all the while, Court’s Janine is the sexy fly in the ointment. It’s all very sophisticated and very dark.

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