Watching 1939: The Man They Could Not Hang

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 17, 1939

Cast:  Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor, Don Beddoe, Ann Doran, James Craig, Joe De Stefani, Byron Foulger, Charles Trowbridge, Dick Curtis, John Tyrrell, Stanley Brown (uncredited)

Studio:  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Director:  Nick Grinde

Plot:
Dr. Henryk Savaard (Karloff) is an esteemed scientist is working on an experiment to bring a dead man back to life by stimulating the heart and keeping blood pumping. When a medical student (Brown) volunteers, his hysterical girlfriend (Doran) calls the police that Dr. Savaard is committing murder. Since the police arrive mid-experiment, the student dies, and Dr. Savaard is arrested. In his trial, Savaard is found guilty and sentenced to death, but his assistant requests the body, carries out the experiment and Savaard lives to seek revenge on the court that found him guilty.

1939 Notes:
• Boris Karloff was in six films released in 1939.
• Lorna Gray was in 18 feature-length and short films released in 1939.
• Roger Pryor was only in two films in 1939.

Other trivia: 
Based on real-life figure Dr. Robert Cornish, who tried to revive patients from heart attack, drowning and electrocution by getting blood flowing. He experimented on dogs that he brought back to life, according to the book Boris Karloff: A Bio-bibliography by Beverley Bare Buehrer.
• The film was banned in Great Britain, according to “Censored Screams: The British Ban on Hollywood Horror in the Thirties” by Tom Johnson
• Re-released in 1947

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
This week’s Watching 1939 film is interesting not so much because of the year 1939, but because of its look at medicine and science and how much has changed since that time.

Boris Karloff plays a respected scientist who wants to bring people back to life. He kills a student volunteer with gases that won’t harm the tissue and then works to revive him by getting the heart pumping and blood flowing through the veins.

Police are called and barge in, interrupting the experiment so that the young man stays dead. They call the scientist crazy and that any sort of experiment would never work.

During the trial, Roger Pryor’s character says: “He wants to butcher our young athletes so their hearts can be used to prolong the life of some doddering old man. Dr. Sakaard’s fine ideal would never be permitted in any civilized county.”

*Raises hand* Give it 40 years, Pryor, organ donation will be commonplace, but it isn’t “butchering.”

Most of the ideas Karloff’s character has that officials think are crazy are now safely and commonly practiced today: Resuscitating someone when their heart stops beating, open heart surgery, organ donation to help others. It almost makes it frustrating to watch his character be convicted because even though he is the crazy one, Karloff’s character is actually right!

Also, 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.

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Watching 1939: The Son of Frankenstein (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Release date: 

Cast:  Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson, Donnie Dunagan, Emma Dunn, Edgar Norton

Studio:  Universal

Director:  Rowland V. Lee

Plot:
Twenty-five years after Dr. Frankenstein and the monster’s death, his son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Rathbone) and his family (Hutchinson, Dunagan) travel to the Frankenstein estate from the United States when it is left to them after his father’s death. The whole town resents Baron Frankenstein returning because of the terror his family brought on the village. When realizing the Monster (Karloff) is still alive, he follows in his father’s footsteps to bring him back to life with the help of Ygor (Lugosi).

1939 Notes:
• Boris Karloff’s last role playing Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
• Josephine Hutchinson’s only film released in 1939.
• Lionel Atwill was in nine films released in 1939.
• Bela Lugosi was in five films released in 1939.
• Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone were both in six films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Peter Lorre was originally approached to play the role of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, which he turned down, according to 1938 articles in The Hollywood Reporter.
• Director Rowland V. Lee tested shooting the film in color, which was abandoned.
• The third Frankenstein film released by Universal. The first two were Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
• Donnie Dunagan’s second film.
• The monster makeup was created by Jack P. Pierce, and it took approximately four hours to prepare Boris Karloff for the scenes.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
The year 1939 was important for a few actors in this film. For Boris Karloff, it was the last time he would have to dress in the heavy monster costume after performing the role three times.

For Basil Rathbone, the year would end up profitable as he would end up playing his most well-known role: Sherlock Holmes.

But before becoming the famed detective, Rathbone had to play Dr. Frankenstein’s misguided son in “Frankenstein’s Son.”

Moving his family across the world and excited to shed the college professor life, Rathbone’s character views Dr. Frankenstein as a genius, rather than a madman. While the monster is supposed to be scary, Rathbone’s character is one of the main villans of this film, with Bela Lugosi’s Ygor leading the madness.

“Son of Frankenstein isn’t the most important film of the year, but it’s a fun example of the Universal horror films. I would also say it’s the last high-quality Frankenstein film before Frankenstein is teamed up in the cross-reference films, with the Wolfman and his other horror friends.

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Review: Horror stars keep us in “Suspense”

Complete with creepy organ music straight from a radio serial, “Suspense” was a live television program that aired from 1949 to 1954. The show followed a radio program of the same name, which is obvious from the narration and music.

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