Review of “The Man With Nine Lives” (1940)

Image by Daniel Perrig from Pixabay

Saturday night pizza and bad movie. The usual pepperoni, pineapple, and—on my side— jalapeno.

And Svengooli.


The opening title card scroll describes a new form of medical treatment: “frozen therapy.” Enter our hero, Dr. Tim Mason (Roger Pryor), detailing the technique to an audience of his learned colleagues. It’s still in the early phases, of course, but he packs the patient in ice and brings the body temperature down to a level that would normally kill a human, yet his patient lives. The healthy tissue remains, but the cancer cells die. He revives his patient after five days, and she feels fine after her “nap.”

The revival involves coffee, a funnel, and tubing, the precise use of which is never described. How does an unconscious person consume coffee? Outside of college, of course.

Dr. Mason proves too flashy for the medical establishment and is asked to, well, shut up a bit. The newspapers claim he has a cure for cancer, a claim, which he denies making.

As he explains to his nurse/fiancée, Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers), his work is based on the writings of one man, Dr. Leon Kravaal (Boris Karloff), a lone genius who disappeared ten years earlier somewhere near the Canadian border. He has some time on his hands now. Why don’t they go see if they can’t locate this Dr. Kravaal?

So, north to some island on a lake by the Canadian border they go, only to find the doctor, yes, on ice, in an underground chamber where he’s made use of the remnants of a glacier for his experiments. He didn’t intend to freeze himself but made the best of a bad situation when the relative and legal representatives of a patient of his came calling. Well, whaddya, know, they might be here, too. Now, if he could only remember the formula he used…


According to IMDB, the movie was probably based on the sad doings of one Dr. Robert Cornish, a University of California professor who, in 1934, announced he had restored a dog named Lazarus to life after putting it to death by clinical means. That University of California gave Dr. Cornish his walking papers. Poor Lazarus.

The film falls squarely in the “mad scientist” arena. Dr. Kravaal has developed a therapy mere mortals, that is, those of established medical field, can’t begin to understand. His aim is to aid humankind, and no one is going to stop him. He kills without compunction to achieve those goals, you know, for the good of humankind.

Having said all that, this movie is a lot of fun. Maybe the surprises are few, and there are a couple of plot holes one could drive a truck through, but I found all this easy to forgive. The flick is entertaining. I was along for the ride from the beginning. I didn’t recognize Boris Karloff, aside from his voice, which is unmistakable.

What does the title mean? No one has nine lives. I didn’t spot any cats. Or dogs. Given the movie’s inspiration, all the better. And what the hell are they doing with the coffee?

I grant this is not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee), and little kidlets may not find it frightening or (alternatively) tedious because of its eternal yammering on about medical miracles. Just the same, I enjoyed it.

Title: The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

Directed by:
Nick Grinde  …         (as Nick Grindé)

Writing Credits:
Karl Brown    …         (screenplay)
Harold Shumate       …         (story)

Cast (in credits order)

Boris Karloff … Dr. Leon Kravaal
Roger Pryor … Dr. Tim Mason
Jo Ann Sayers … Judith Blair
Stanley Brown … Bob Adams
John Dilson … John Hawthorne

Released: April 18, 1940
Length: approx.. 1 hour, 14 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: