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June 23, 2013

Movie Review: Indestructible Man (1956)

Directed by Jack Pollexfen

Movie review by Greg Goodsell

"Butcher" Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.) goes to his death at the big house, cursing the trio who double-crossed him following an armored-car hold-up: "Squeamy" Ellis (Marvin Ellis), Joe Marcelli (Ken Terrell) and Paul Lowe (Ross Elliott), his attorney as well as secret leader of the gang. Benton vows to return from the grave to avenge his death. Executed without revealing the location of the stolen loot, Benton is brought back to life by two low-rent mad scientists and begins his killing spree. Police Lieutenant Dick Chasen (Max Showalter) narrates in tough “Dragnet” style while girlfriend and “dancer” Eva (Marian Carr) is justifiably perturbed.

Described as a “childhood favorite” by many, with its seedy milieu of death row executions, burlesque halls, double-crosses, gangsters, skid row gin joints and casual brutality, Indestructible Man has more than enough to entertain children of all ages.

As an enthusiastic “monster kid” willing to suspend all disbelief for chills and thrills, one scene in Indestructible Man forever disillusioned me when I first saw this on television. Brought back to life, Chaney awakes as if roused by a weekend bender, pushes his scientist benefactor against a pillar, stumbles against a back wall and tears a door off its hinges. The mad scientist’s excitable assistant wanders in to utter the unintentionally funny line, “It’s too late for the amyl nitrate!” Chaney then stumbles back on to the set and repays his resurrectionists by wastin’ both of them! This scene, along with Bela Lugosi’s mad scientist laboratory in Edward D. Wood Jr.’s Bride of the Monster (1956), with its bricks cut out of construction paper and stuck on the wall with glue, coupled with a photo enlarger had me thinking to myself, “Who are they trying to kid?”

Indestructible Man is compelling viewing in spite of the “monster” being merely Lon Chaney Jr. stumbling around in dire need of a shave and a haircut. The film touches on a lot of old time Los Angeles landmarks such as Angel’s Flight and the Bradbury Building, the latter leaving a memorable impression in Blade Runner (1982).

Shot piecemeal over a year, an awful lot of the Indestructible Man doesn’t make any sense. In a print publication that this writer contributes to (plug, plug, plug) Screem #26, author Tom Weaver faithfully lists all the script inconsistencies and explains many of Indestructible Man’s plot holes. Why does the film include a scene of Marian Carr unsuccessfully trying to glue a high heel back on her shoe, only to have the overworked and underpaid L.A. police force rush right out to buy her some more sensibly styled flats? Go read the article.

As this DVD comes from Retromedia, Fred Olen Ray’s DVD company, the extras are plentiful, if on the shabby side. “Remembering Lon Chaney” is an 11-minute chat with journeyman cinematography Gary Graver who worked with Chaney on Al Adamson’s odious Dracula Vs. Frankenstein back in 1971. Graver remembers Chaney’s brave last days with throat cancer, as well as J. Carroll Naish’s chattering dentures turning up on the soundtrack, a source of annoyance to all viewers today. The “Lon Chaney Trailer Collection” includes trailers for the film as well as Blood of the Man Devil, Alligator People and Dracula Vs. Frankenstein. A 1954 TV episode of ‘The Whistler” entitled “Backfire” stars Chaney as a chauffeur who becomes entangled in the murder of his rich married female employer. “Lon Chaney LIVE!” is a radio interview excerpt with the actor, an especially painful 48 seconds recorded for the BBC. His voice almost gone due to health issues, Chaney bemoans the fate of his horror film roles being relegated to parody in part due to comedians Abbot and Costello and cheap, fly-by-night producers. Time has been more forgiving and appreciative to Chaney’s reputation as an actor, and in this cheap, somewhat laughable feature, his charisma and talent proves to be, yes, indestructible.

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