The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) Dual Format Review

see Out: 21st Sept / 83 mins / 1959 / Rating: 15 / Eureka Classics / Dir. Terence Fisher

Doctor and amateur sculptor Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) has discovered a murderous method of maintaining his youth, once every ten years he murders a young woman and removes her parathyroid glands to replace his own. But after 104 years, he’s run into some problems. His collaborator is now too old to perform the surgical procedure, and a detective is on his case. In desperation Bonnet blackmails another surgeon (Christopher Lee) into performing the procedure by threatening the life of Janine Dubois (Hazel Court), a woman who both men desire.

Another classic from the vaults of Hammer receives a Blu-ray release, this time thanks to Eureka!, in the form of The Man Who Could Cheat Death.

Coming shortly after the studio had ‘re-invented’ British horror cinema with Curse of Frankenstein, director Terence Fisher delivers a movie that is quite different to his revolutionary work. The Man… is more of a cerebral horror, it doesn’t go for the more visceral aspects of the genre. In fact there isn’t much in the way of outright scares and gratuitous blood, something that happened a fair bit in Frankenstein.

Here Fisher allows the story to breath and fills the script with dialogue that does more for story development than overuse of fake blood. The plot isn’t too original, lending element’s from The Picture of Dorian Gray amongst others, yet it has enough of a spark for it to entertain when something does happen.

Anton Diffring

One thing that really makes the movie memorable is the cinematography, done by Jack Asher. It plays a big part in creating an atmosphere at the moments when Dr. Bonnet reveals his more sinister side. He is lit from beneath or the side with a startling green light, it is a bold contrast compared to the more moderately lit set. It looks luscious. 

Sadly the movie isn’t as strong as it should have been. Diffring is a strong lead with a fantastic piercing stare and Hammer icons Hazel Court and Christopher Lee have large roles. Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplay (based on a Barre Lyndon play The Man in Half Moon Street which had already been adapted once before in 1945). Yet it feels as if it is lacking despite the Hammer heavy hitters involved, due to the concentration on talking over action.

The HD is good although the print used has aged too much and damage is still noticeable. Special features.

Kim Newman Interview (18 mins) – The well known author/critic talks about the movie and discusses it’s stars and release.

Johnathan Rigby Interview (16 mins) – Rigby gives a very informed history of the main feature, from it’s inspiration, altercations to the story to it’s involvement with Paramount Pictures.

While it may have some issues, The Man Who Could Cheat Death is still a rewarding Hammer with a memorable performance by Diffring.

Order here.