Man They Could Not Hang, The (1939)

Man They Could Not Hang, The (1939)

“To operate on a living body is like trying to repair a motor when it’s still running.”

A doctor (Boris Karloff) experimenting with a radical form of surgery is captured by police after temporarily putting his student (Stanley Brown) to death; unwilling to believe that he meant no harm, a jury sentences him to death by hanging. But Karloff’s assistant (Joe De Stefani) resurrects him using Karloff’s own methods, and soon Karloff begins seeking revenge on those responsible for his death.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Boris Karloff Films
  • Horror<
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Revenge

As noted in my review of The Walking Dead (1936), Boris Karloff was cast in an ordinate number of B-level “living dead” flicks after achieving fame as the Monster in Frankenstein (1931); in The Man They Could Not Hang, he plays the “mad doctor” rather than the subject of experimentation. The first half of the film — in which the premise is established, and characters are clearly divided between Sympathetic and Unsympathetic to Karloff’s cause — is rather standard fare; it’s not until the second half that things really kick into high gear, as the resurrected Karloff calls together all the remaining individuals who have wronged him, and proceeds to cause their deaths one by one. This section is nicely handled, and makes the film as a whole worth a look; otherwise, this one is strictly must-see for Karloff fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The gripping “old dark house” revenge sequence
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its tense second half.


One thought on “Man They Could Not Hang, The (1939)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    This is certainly watchable and will captivate those who enjoy films of this ‘mad doctor’ type – and, at just over an hour, it more or less flies by. It’s a little sillier than films such as this tend to be but, yes, the second half carries some punch.

    Speaking of the second half, it bears a strong resemblance to the basic plot of Neil Simon’s script for ‘Murder by Death’: bringing a group of related persons together in order to attempt to bump them off. Karloff even serves as an offstage voice quite a bit – as Truman Capote does in ‘MBD’.

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