The Man They Could Not Hang – USA, 1939 – reviews

‘The king of horror thrills… excites… terrifies… as a doctor-turned-demon!’

The Man They Could Not Hang is a 1939 American science fiction horror feature film directed by Nick Grinde (The Man with Nine Lives; Before I Hang) from a screenplay by Karl Brown based on a story by Leslie T. White and George W. Sayre. The Favorite Films production stars Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor and Ann Doran. It was distributed by Columbia.

Plot:

Dr. Savaard (Boris Karloff) is obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. A young medical student offers his services to him, but before he can bring him back to life, Savaard is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to hang. He vows revenge on the judge and the jury before his hanging.

Savaard’s assistant Lang (Byron Foulger) claims the doctor’s body and revives him by using his own technique. Savaard then goes on a vengeful killing spree…

Reviews:

” …what must have seemed at the time like fanciful notions of an artificial heart would soon become reality. Such prescience enables this tight little horror picture to rise above its low-budget origins, helped by Karl Brown’s fast-moving screenplay which creates in Karloff’s first mad scientist an unusually articulate and sympathetic villain.” 20/20 Movie Reviews

“Even with death cards, barred windows, and electrified gates, the film, like its non-entity supporting cast, is too subdued. Karloff alone is the film’s entertaining over-the-top redemption, moving things along at breakneck speed.” 366 Weird Movies

“The screenplay by Karl Brown is solid and shows a strong touch for dialogue, particularly during the court scene, and later at the climax in which Karloff utters a line that could have summed up many of the characters he played throughout his career: “They killed the man I was. All that’s left is the will to hate and to destroy.” All Movie

“Fast-moving and visually rich, this is one of Karloff’s best thrillers which didn’t rely on movie monsters. The story is dramatically strong enough to sustain the scientific shortcomings at the centre of the plot. The lively and convincing cast are consistently good,  though short of familiar faces.” Black Hole

” …it’s interesting because while this is a B horror film, it also has a slightly deeper meaning. Part of the message is how science can provide good, but people either discredit it or corrupt its good. The Man They Could Not Hang is entertaining and exciting, but interesting on a deeper level for it predicted what is to come in medicine.” Comet Over Hollywood

“It’s pretty standard, starting out as fairly ordinary mad scientist fare and then turning into a sort of ‘old dark house’ variant where people trapped in a room are picked off one by one. Nevertheless, it’s not bad; Karloff gives a strong performance, and there are several touches here and there (particularly near the end) that I quite like…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

” …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.” The Telltale Mind

” …what really makes the movie is Karloff.  Plain and simple, he’s just f*cking awesome in this thing.  His stirring courtroom scene where he swears vengeance on the men who condemned him is some of the best acting the man ever did; and that’s really saying something. The Man They Could Not Hang is not a great B movie, but it typifies what is great about B movies.” The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

  • Boris Karloff … Doctor Henryk Savaard
  • Lorna Gray … Janet Savaard
  • Robert Wilcox … Scoop Foley
  • Roger Pryor … District Attorney Drake
  • Don Beddoe … Police Lieutenant Shane
  • Ann Doran … Betty Crawford
  • Joe De Stefani … Doctor Stoddard
  • Charles Trowbridge … Judge Bowman
  • Byron Foulger … Lang
  • Dick Curtis … Clifford Kearney
  • James Craig … Watkins
  • John Tyrrell … Sutton

Running time:

64 minutes

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