The Man With Nine Lives

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(5/10) In a nutshell: One of five films that Columbia made with Boris Karloff, more or less from one and the same script, this 1940 cryogenics film is competently made and quite enjoyable. At least you’ll get a few chuckles out of the utterly silly science, like doctors reviving patients from cryogenic stasis with pots of hot coffee.

The Man With Nine Lives. 1940, USA. Directed by Nick Grinde. Written by Karl Brown & Harold Shumate. Starring: Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers. Produced by Irving Briskin & Wallace MacDonald for Columbia. IMDb score: 6.4

Boris Karloff and the stupid authorities arguing over a frozen man in a promo still.

Boris Karloff and the stupid authorities arguing over a frozen man in a promo still.

1940 saw a brief burst of science fiction/mad doctor films, before the genre started to wane in the forties. One reason was Boris Karloff, who appeared in four(!) such films that year: The Ape, Before I Hang, Black Friday and The Man With Nine Lives. The Man With Nine Lives was one of five mad scientist films that Karloff did for Columbia under a short period of time, and one of three directed by Nick Grinde. Continue reading

The Man from Beyond

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(2/10) In a nutshell: Harry Houdini is frozen in ice for a hundred years, and is too busy longing for love and escaping from danger to realise it is no longer 1820, but 1922. Houdini is charismatic, but the film derivative, and the escape acts don’t transfer well to the screen.

The Man from Beyond. 1922, USA. Director: Burton L. King. Written by: Harry Houdini, Coolidge Streeter. Starring: Harry Houdini, Nita Naldi. Produced by Harry Houdini for Houdini Picture Corporation. IMDb score: 5.6

Actually this picture is tilted 90 degrees to make it look dangerous. That's how badly Houdini's tricks work on film.

Actually this picture is tilted 90 degrees to make it look dangerous. That’s how badly Houdini’s tricks work on film.

Nearly every living human being knows the name Harry Houdini, the world’s most legendary escape artist. Less known is the fact that Houdini was also something of an action hero during the latter silent film era. In 1907 Houdini started to show films as part of his vaudeville show, and made a few short films with arbitrary plots to show off his escape acts. Once he had become America’s best paid vaudeville act and a successful businessman, he was offered to play the lead in the 20-part sci-fi serial The Master Mystery (1919, review here), which fuelled his passion for acting, and not long after he established the Houdini Picture Corporation, which produced five films, all starring Harry Houdini, and partially written by him. The films were largely unsuccessful, as the thrill of his live acts – which were the draw of the movies – didn’t translate successfully onto the screen. The problem with doing escape acts in fictional films is that in film anything is possible. If you can create a living robot, then escaping from a pair of handcuffs really shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the 1922 film The Man from Beyond – Houdini’s second and last foray into sci-fi, is wholly without interest. As far as I can tell, this film, which is his best remembered movie, is the first film that depicts the theory of cryogenics – that a human being can be frozen for an infinite amount of time and then awakened hundreds of years later without having aged a day. Continue reading