The Man With Nine Lives(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 10.4.2005)
In 1939-1940, Columbia released three B-movie programmers from the team of actor Boris Karloff, director Nick Grinde, and screenwriter Karl Brown that played like the mutant offspring of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The gimmick was that Karloff, the iconic embodiment of Mary Shelley's monster, was now the mad doctor. But, while bookends The Man They Could Not Hang and Before I Hang, had Karloff's quacks confined to death row, The Man With Nine Lives finds him practicing pseudo-science from a fortress of solitude of his own creation.
At King Hospital, Dr. Morgan (Roger Pryor) is given a forced leave of absence by his straightlaced superior when he prematurely showcases his embryonic, cryogenic cancer cure to the press. Morgan extrapolated his treatment from the writings of Dr. Kravaal (Karloff) and, with his nurse squeeze (Jo Ann Sayers) in tow, Morgan uses the time off to attempt to unearth Kravaal, who vanished from his Canadian island home a decade earlier.
They find Kravaal 100 feet below ground, encased in ice -- along with the angry mob who naively persecuted him -- alive but as batty as the cave he's in. Thereafter, a thawed-out Kravaal takes his ethical cues from Machiavelli as we hurdle toward the expected downbeat denouement...until a bizarre postscript has the good doctor praised as a hero by a medical staff who must have read "A Modest Proposal" and taken it literally.
Brown's clipped script is an impotent concoction of horror and science fiction, with an emphasis on fiction. The cancer cure is laughably low tech, even for the `40s: patients are frozen with ice cubes and fans and defrosted with heat packs and hot coffee. At least editor Al Clark (All the King's Men) keeps our blood flowing with the economical 73-minute running time and cinematographer Benjamin Kline (Detour) does some interesting work with the lighting. Grinde and art director Lionel Banks (His Girl Friday) also do a fine job creating a minatory ambiance in Kravaal's labrynthine house and glacial laboratory.
Karloff plays his role with venomous conviction, capably portraying a man descending into madness without resorting to camp. The real leads, though, are Pryor -- whom Columbia considered "the poor man's Clark Gable" -- and Sayers, who screen-tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara. Unfortunately, their wooden performances reveal why they remained B-movie benchwarmers to their Gone With the Wind counterparts.
This black-and-white pic is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and the only extras are a few previews for throwaways like Frankenfish. The transfer looks solid for most of the film, but there's persistent flickering during the final act, which oddly works in the film's favor. -- Colin Miller