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The Man With Nine Lives (Sous-titres français)
To save many, he'll sacrifice a few. Missing for ten years, Dr. Leon Kravaal (Boris Karloff) has been found! Frozen solid in a block of ice, Kravaal was conducting forbidden experiments in human cryogenics when he became trapped within his own freezer. Thawed out by Tim Morgan (Roger Pryor) and Judy Blair (Jo Ann Sayers), Kravaal vows to continue his research, using his enemies as guinea pigs. But with the death of his last human "volunteer," Kravaal decides it's time for Time and Judy to sacrifice their lives for science, in this chilling tale of cold-blooded murder.
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This issue of THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940) is another in what looks like it might be a DVD series of the horror films Karloff made for Columbia. For fans of the actor, it's more than welcome. Karloff gets to play a couple of nicely chilling scenes, which he does very well, and his Dr. Kravaal is the saving grace in what would otherwise be just another B programmer. He's the only real standout in the cast, but the general level of acting is above average. As Dr. Kravaal's foils, Roger Pryor and Jo Ann Sayers are convincing and sympathetic. The often-seen character actor Byron Foulger has some nicely intense moments as one of Kravaal's victims, and there is Bruce Bennett as policeman in the film's climax. It's a fine example of a good B picture: concise and never dull. Director Grinde creates a sense of doom and foreboding as Pryor and Sayers begin their journey in search of Dr. Kravaal's documents, which leads to a variation on the haunted house motif. The main section of the film has an effectively creepy atmosphere, without being exactly horrific. Karloff and the rest deliver for 74 minutes that should not disappoint.
The Columbia Tristar DVD has a very good looking transfer, and the film appears to be uncut. Up until the final 10 minutes, the image is as clear and sharp as we could expect. For some reason, the final minutes do look more worn, but it's not really a problem.
The disc has only trailers of recent films as a supplement. The most attractive feature of the DVD is the main menu page, and the scene selection menu, which both have a beautiful sepia-toned look. This is fully the equal of Columbia's previous DVD of THE DEVIL COMMANDS, and it's a lot less expensive.
After seeing Karloff recently in a lot of mad scientist roles that all seemed to be similar, I wasn't too sure about watching him in yet another mad scientist flick. Would he be on death row again? Would he be a widower and have the obligatory 18-25 year-old daughter? Would he be seeking vengeance against those who scorned him? Wow, imagine my surprise to see him in a very different mad scientist role.
"The Man with Nine Lives" has Karloff as a misunderstood genius who has perfected a way of using cryogenics (a term that is never actually used in the film) to cure disease in the human body. You don't even see Karloff for the first 10-15 minutes of the film. His eventual appearance is dramatically built up as a cryogenics research doctor and his nurse/fiancee search for answers to the mysterious disappearance of Karloff's character and five other people 10 years earlier. When his character is finally revealed it answers quite a few questions and sets the next chapter of the film into motion (I don't want to reveal too much here).
What I loved about this film was the way it weaved in profound questions about scientific ethics (anyone who has seen it will understand what I mean) in a way no other Karloff mad scientist film ever has. Is it right to experiment on unwilling human guinea pigs even if the knowledge gained could save millions? In other words, does the end justify the means? That's the big question in this film.
As a viewer I simultaneously felt sympathy for and horror toward Karloff's character in much the same way the other lead character, Tim Morgan (Roger Pryor), does. I can understand Karloff's frustration and anger as people he perceives as simple-minded continuously thwart his quest for the discovery of a medical breakthrough. Of course, his unorthodox approach to achieving his goals and his almost divine self-justification are a bit frightening.
Just a few years after this film was made a doctor named Josef Mengele was experimenting with unwilling human guinea pigs in Nazi Germany. Although Mengele was a much more horrific real-life example of unchecked medical research gone wild, one can imagine Karloff's character going in that direction given the chance.
This is a really good film. Highly recommended to all Karloff fans.
As the film begins we're witnessing a demonstration the miracle of `frozen therapy' as performed by Dr. Tim Mason (Pryor), assisted by his fiancée Judith Blair (Sayers), who also happens to be a nurse. The process seems to involve covering a patient in ice, bringing their body temperature way, way down, and then reviving them by administering a hot coffee enema. The theory is to bring the patient's body temperature to the point where the cold kills the malignant cells while not harming the healthy ones, or something like that (sound a bit like quackery to me, but then the proof is in the frozen pudding). As word of Mason's success spreads, he admits he's hardly a pioneer, and that his inspiration came from another, a doctor by the name of Leon Kravaal (Karloff), who mysteriously vanished some ten years ago. Mason, realizing he's only just touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg, travels, with Judith in tow, to Dr. Kravaal's last known residence, a secluded home on Crater Island, near the American/Canadian border, in hopes of finding notes, journals, or anything that might advance Mason's work. The townspeople seem tightlipped (apparently five men, including Dr. Kravaal were last seen some ten years ago headed towards the island, all vanishing without a trace), but Tim and Judith forge ahead, arriving at the island, finding Kravaal's seemingly deserted home, and uncovering a hidden tunnel that leads to a secret lab. Next to the lab are two cold storage chambers, one of which contains the frozen body of Kravaal himself! After the elder doctor is revived, he relates a fantastic tale (one which indicates there may be other human Popsicles lying about), and it turns out, through accidental means, Dr. Kravaal has achieved his greatest success...a formula compound that enables a person to survive the deep freeze process (no one likes freezer burn), but circumstances conspire against him as some information is lost, and now Kravaal is desperate to recover the vital details, even if it means using Tim, Judith, and whomever else might be lying about as human guinea pigs (lets just say deviations from the original compound result in a case of the terminal sleep).
Certainly Karloff played the `altruistic scientist working towards the betterment of mankind, the means justifying the ends, his theories rejected by his peers' character a number of times in his career (The Man Who Changed His Mind, The Devil Commands, The Body Snatcher), but I never seemed to get tired of the role. Perhaps it's Karloff's ability to create a tenuous sense of likeability in his characters. Sure, some of their deeds and methods are construed as dastardly or even evil, causing the characters to be ostracized from his peers and society in general, but the intent is usually benevolent, the focus being towards the benefits towards humanity, rather than base, personal gains (sometimes there is a desire for vindication present, but its usually a secondary motive). The cast is comprised of professional actors (many of them experienced supporting character actors), but the standout here is Karloff (big surprise). Where others might present a wacky, over the top rendition, Karloff keeps it real, providing a strong and believable (and wily) character, full of depth, driven by an `intensity of purpose'. You may not agree with his methods, but you can sympathize with his desires. As far as Roger Pryor, often considered `the poor man's Clark Gable' and Jo Ann Sayers go, they seemed pretty much along for the ride. Pryor's character was of the sympathetic sort until things got heavy (about the time the human test subjects started croaking), while Sayers character was basically eye candy, often relegated to domestic duties (making coffee, serving food, etc.), par for the course for female characters in many of horror or science fiction films of the time. The direction is straightforward, as is the story, and the scripting very solid. One aspect with regards to the script I liked was the strength, for the most part, in the scientific material. They appear suspect now, but even so, there seems to be, at the very least, some presence of validity, as if someone actually did some research, rather than making it up as they went along. Another strength of the production was the settings, especially the relatively rustic underground facilities of Dr. Kravaal, including the ice chambers. Whoever created these sets did an outstanding job. My favorite sequence of the film, which actually didn't feature Karloff, involved the characters of Tim and Judith. Prior to finding Dr. Kravaal's island home, they arrive at a meager boat rental business on the lake, and approach the elderly owner. After asking the man a few questions, Tim relates his intent to which the man issues a stern warning (about four or five times) about how they shouldn't go to the island. So what's the first thing Tim and Judith do after renting a boat? Go straight to the island...I could almost picture the man, witnessing this from the far shore, raising his fist and shaking it, like old men are apt to do, at the disembarking couple.
The picture quality on this DVD release, presented in original fullscreen (1.33:1) aspect ratio, looks excellent, for the most part. There were a couple of noticeable points where the quality wavered (a slight `watery' effect), but I doubt fans of Karloff will mind considering the relative rarity of the film prior to this recent release. The Dolby Digital mono audio comes through very strong at the beginning, lessens slightly as the film progresses, but, overall, it is very good. There aren't any special features, other than usual previews for unrelated Columbia Tristar Home Video DVD releases like Frankenfish (2004), Devour (2005), Vampires: The Turning (2005), and "Kingdom Hospital" (2004).
If you're interested in some other, obscure Karloff films on DVD, I'd suggest The Old Dark House (1932), The Ghoul (1933), The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936), and The Bela Lugosi Collection, which features The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), and Black Friday (1940), all which feature Karloff, along with Lugosi...perhaps the set should haven been titled The Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff Collection, as the only film in it which doesn't feature the duo is Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).
I really enjoyed this movie. Nicely filmed, reasonable acting, plot went right along and except for the fact that the scientists completely forgot about that curing cancer thing, the plot held together pretty well. Recommended!
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