Review of “Indestructible Man” (1956)

Trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering.

Plot:

Told in flashback by the investigating detective, Lt. Dick Chasen (Max Showalter billed as Casey Adams), this depicts the last days of convicted criminal  Charles “Butcher” Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.). Benton’s *cough* lawyer, Paul Lowe (Ross Elliott), breaks the news to him in San Quentin that his last appeal has been turned down. He’s going to the gas chamber the next day.

Benton is more angry than surprised. Lowe set the whole armored car robbery up (there’s a lawyer joke in here somewhere…). Benton blames Lowe for talking his two partners into turning state’s evidence and leaving him to twist in the wind. Lowe blames Benton for hiding the money—$600,000, a lot of money in 1956—and trying to keep it for himself. The boys got sore.

“What about Eva?” Lowe asks. “You tell me where the money is, and I’ll see she gets your share.”

“I’ve got a different idea,” Benton says. “I’m gonna kill you and Squeamy and Joe.”

Ungraciously, Lowe reminds him he will die the next day.

In a Los Angeles bar, Benton’s erstwhile associates Joe Marcellia (Ken Terrell) and Squeamy Ellis (Marvin Press), listen to a radio broadcast recounting the news of the execution.

Later that same day, Dr. Bradshaw (Robert Shayne), a “distinguished biochemist,” is getting ready to conduct an experiment that he hopes will lead to a cure for cancer. He’s had some success with laboratory animals. Now he needs a human. He and his assistant (an uncredited Joe Flynn, apparently retire from his naval service in the Pacific and Commander McHale…) run 287,000 volts through his body. I mean, why not?

To their surprise, his heart starts beatings. He starts breathing. Even more surprising, he’s immensely powerful. Hypodermic needles bend rather than penetrate his skin. Bullets have no effect on him. However, he’s unable to speak and walks with a shuffling gait.

Feeling a disturbance in Force, maybe, Lowe, Squeamy, and Joe…?

Thoughts:

This odd combination of horror and gangster flicks works, even if much of it is predictable. The viewer also cares about Benton. He got a raw deal. After he is brought back from the dead, and the body count starts adding up, it becomes harder to feel sympathy for him. The feeling is more of a tragedy that must play out, step by sad step. Does Benton regret any of his killings? Hard to say because he can’t talk. He communicates feelings with his eyes: anger, disappointment.

Lon Chaney was most famous for his werewolf roles (The Wolfman (1941), House of Dracula (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)), but also play Dracula, a mummy, and the Frankenstein monster.

Using both gangster and horror/sci-fi tropes, the movie stays true to both genres. The detective narrates the tale, noting this one as “unusual,” but otherwise, he’s just an ordinary detective and Benton is just a usual criminal who happened upon unusual circumstances.

The film used Los Angeles locations often used in TV and movie, namely the famous Bradbury Building and the Angles Flight funicular railway. I didn’t grow up in the area and wasn’t around in 1956, but my dearly beloved, who did grow up in the area sometime later, loved the shots of old L.A. (“Bunker Hill” conjures up a whole different landscape for me.)

Indestructible Man is not a bad film. It is entertaining, if not surprising. I enjoyed it.

This can be watched on YouTube for free here.

Mystery Science Theater treatment


Title: Indestructible Man (1956)

Directed by Jack Pollexfen

Writing Credits
Vy Russell…(original screenplay) and
Sue Dwiggins…(original screenplay) (as Sue Bradford)

Cast
Lon Chaney Jr…Charles “Butcher” Benton (as Lon Chaney)
Max Showalter…Police Lt. Dick Chasen (as Casey Adams)
Marian Carr…Eva Martin (as Marion Carr)
Ross Elliott…Paul Lowe
Stuart Randall…Police Capt. John Lauder

Released: 1956
Length: 1 hour, 12 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."

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