Dr Savaard is a brilliant doctor that is on the cusp of discovering a way in bringing the dead back to life! When a medical student and fan of Savaards volunteers to prove the process works, Savaard and his assistant proceed with killing the student. The lover of the student who is also the Savaards nurse runs off to the police. The experiment is a botch which then lands Savaard on death row where he is hung! But Savaards assistant retrieves his body and brings Savaard back to life through his own experiments! Angered and driven to revenge, Savaard vows to punish all who wronged him!
The Man They Could Not Hang is a 1939 Golden Age horror film directed by Nick Grinde and starring Boris Karloff and Lorna Gray. It was the first of a series of films titled the “Mad Doctor Cycle” which included other titles like The Man With Nine Lives, Before I Hang and The Devil Commands. All of these were produced by Columbia Pictures and featured Karloff as a scientist/doctor.
While the Mad Doctor Cycle all featured Karloff as the lead, I always felt that The Man They Could Not Hang was his best roll. Sure, Frankenstein and The Mummy are some of his most prominent characters but Dr. Savaard is purely awesome. What I love about him is that he’s actually a good scientist. Savaard is this warm and inviting man that truly wants to help mankind. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein who is trying to play God and is absolutely obsessed with his endeavors or Dr. Cyclops that is driven mad. Dr. Savaard’s is a product by a society that would condemn him. His actions and murders come from a place of vengeance and not insanity. Thus, this movie tugs at your emotions because Savaard’s attempts at defeating death are in fact noble. The young man he “kills” actually believes in the process and agrees to it all. So there isn’t any real evil thing going on. The film actually gives us full disclosure that Savaard can accomplish what he claims. The young student would have survived the entire thing it it were not for the nurse. We learn this because after Savaard is killed, his assistant gets his body and brings Savaard back.
Karloff in the courtroom is absolutely brilliant and proves why he was the best of his time. The man has so much range because in the beginning Savaard is nice and genuine. He cares for his student more than he does the experiments. But this all changes when the courts and law ruin everything for him. The man dominates the screen and delivers this epic rant about medicine and society that would make you shiver.
You who have condemned me, I know your kind. Your forebears poisoned Socrates, burned Joan of Arc, hanged tortured all those whose only offense was to bring light into the darkness. For you to condemn me in my work is so shameful that the judgement of history will be against you for years to come.
After he curses the courts and especially the nurse, he is hanged and his body is then brought back to life. Then Karloff goes on a killing spree. All the jurors in the courtroom are one by one dropping dead. Know one suspects Savaard because the guy is dead. But little do they know that he’s planning something big. He invites the rest of the remaining jurors and counsel members that sentenced him to death to a dinner party. There, Savaard shows himself to the group. This part is epic because Karloff is smooth and menacing. He walks into the room and mocks everyone, sending them in utter shock and silence.
As the dinner party group try to escape, you find out that Savaard has rigged his house up with booby traps. This is when the movie moves into its more horror element. One guy gets electrocuted with a metal fence. Another guy tries using the phone and a needle pierces his head. Making Savaard this evil mastermind like Dr. Phibes, Jigsaw or the Collector. At one point Savaard kills the lights and he’s going to shoot down on them all with a shotgun! Holy bloody hell that is one jacked up guy! Karloff is the most evil at this point. More so than the his Satanic priest in The Black Cat! But you know something had to ruin it all. The guys daughter shows up and she throws a wrench in his schemes. She ends up sacrificing herself to stop the madness and in doing so, Savaard is shot and about to die.
But in his last effort Savaard saves his daughter with his science and before he dies, he shoots and destroys his machine that brings the dead back to life. Sentencing mankind to live on without this break thru discovery!
Honestly, I think the movie is kind of interesting in how Savaard seeks vengeance. Most people if they were killed and then came back to life, would rather rub it in peoples faces instead of killing folks. I mean, Savaard had pretty much free rein after coming back from the dead. If I was him, I would have gone on Johnny Carson or all the news stations and simply laughed at everyone. But no, Savaard is all about death now. The man that once tried to save mankind is now hellbent on its destruction. He can continue his work and become famous but instead destroys any trace of his experiments so know one can live forever!
They Man They Could Not Hang is a nice short little Golden Age movie that does a great job at keeping you entertained. Sure it’s not scary or gory by today’s standards or even the standards of that time. But it does stand as the first trap and snare horror film. One that would inspire countless knock offs of its kind. Karloff as Savaard is what drives me back to this movie. The way he delivers lines in sincere, happy, angered and sneering ways is so awesome and masterful. It is one of his most memorable performances and a classic in the realms of horror. One thing you might notice in this movie is how Savaard doesn’t actually kill people. In fact, before they actually die, he warns them over and over again on a loud speaker to stop. It makes you wonder if they group of people had listened, would they have survived the night? But that is left for you to decide and we honor it on day twelve of my Horror Movie Marathon.