Friday, March 21, 2008


Like many of his fellow titans of terror, Lon Chaney Jr. found himself in a career slump in the 1950's. With the days of Wolf Man and Mummy films for Universal behind him, Chaney found himself phoning in several performances in minor B productions. 1956's INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN is one of them, a crime thriller with a minimal horrific slant that echoes Chaney's previous MAN MADE MONSTER.

Directed by Jack Pollexfen, the film stars Chaney as Butcher Benton, an executed criminal brought back to life by electricity as part of a secret scientific experiment. Since the movie's presented as a DRAGNET-style docudrama (complete with just-the-facts narration by the unfortunately-named Lt. Dick Chasen), Chaney's resurrection is rushed through in spectacularly unspectacular fashion--just a quick zap of juice and voila, instant killing machine--so that Chaney can get down to the business of offing the cohorts who set him up. (For some reason the procedure also renders Chaney mute, saving the actor--who was in all likelihood thoroughly pickled during the shoot--the trouble of memorizing dialogue.)

Despite the science-fiction trappings, INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN plays like a straight crime melodrama, with Chaney's invincibility used as a gimmick. The action plays like any generic gangster picture (though I got a kick out of seeing Chaney tossing dummies from rooftops or down flights of stairs), though in a few instances Pollexfen works up a somewhat noirish look with the occasional use of light and shadow (as well as a few hardboiled dames). The performances are what you'd expect from a B quickie, with Chaney's the most unfortunate: an interchangeable set of expressions somewhere between Excedrin Headache #326 and a serious bout of constipation, conveying his anger with close-ups on his half-squinting eyes.

INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN has its moments, and in the right frame of mind can make for a pleasant time-killer, but it's still tough for someone who loved Chaney as Larry Talbot (or Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN) reduced to such drivel. It is, though, better than some of the truly abysmal work that would await him in the future.

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