Indestructible Man – USA, 1955

‘The screen’s 300,000 volt shocker!’

Indestructible Man is a 1955 American science fiction horror film produced and directed by Jack Pollexfen (The Neanderthal Man; Captive Women; The Man from Planet X) from a screenplay by Vy Russell and Sue Dwiggins. It stars Lon Chaney, Jr., Marian Carr and Casey Adams.

The picture was produced independently by C.G.K. Productions. It was distributed theatrically in the United States by Allied Artists Pictures from 18 March 1956 on a double-bill with World Without End.

Plot:

Police detective Dick Chasen (Max Showalter) narrates a bizarre story that concerns a 72-hour period of horror for the city of Los Angeles.

Charles “Butcher” Benton (Chaney) is a double-crossed convicted robber and murderer who was executed in the gas chamber. His body is unlawfully sold to a scientist (Robert Shayne) who plans to move his experiments into the cause and cure of cancer to human subjects. Benton’s corpse is subjected to chemical injection and massive jolts of high-voltage electricity in order to study the effect on human tissues.

However, Benton’s heart is restimulated and he completely revives (though rendered mute due to electrical damage to his vocal cords), immensely strong and with skin virtually impervious to scalpels, police bullets, even to bazooka shells…

Review:

Indestructible Man is a low-budget B-movie that, as a result of being in the public domain, has been released on DVD by several different companies and seems to be included in just about every other compilation box set released by the folks at Mill Creek. Perhaps because it stars Lon Chaney, Jr., it also seems to turn up on TCM fairly regularly.

There is one scene in particular that is memorable.  It comes towards the end of the film.  Detective Dick Chasen (Max Showalter) has managed to solve the mystery of the Indestructible Man.  He celebrates by going out with his new girlfriend, a burlesque dancer played by Marian Carr.  Sitting there in the car, illuminated by the romantic glow of the moon, Detective Chasen informs her that he’s gotten her fired from her job because she’s going to be way too busy being his wife to have a career. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t say no!” his girlfriend responds.

Watch for yourself. From Indestructible Man, here’s one of the most sexist scenes in film history…

Up until that ending, Indestructible Man tells the story of Charles “Butcher” Benson (Lon Chaney, Jr.).   As you might guess from his nickname, Butcher isn’t a nice guy. In fact, he’s a career criminal who is sitting on death row in California. He’s been double-crossed by his criminal partners (who include both a lawyer and a guy named Squeamy, so you know they’re bad) and, from his prison cell, he swears that he will have his revenge.

And then he’s promptly executed.

However, his body is donated to science. Scientist Robert Shaye is investigating whether or not massive electrical shock can be utilised to cure cancer. When he and his assistant (Joe Flynn) shock the Butcher’s corpse, the Butcher comes back to life and starts to wander around the laboratory. Shaye attempts to give him a shot but the hypodermic needle snaps when pressed against the Butcher’s skin. The Butcher proceeds to strangle both the scientist and his assistant…

What’s going on?  Well, fortunately, this film is narrated by Detective Dick Chasen (and yes, that is the character’s name and that’s all I’m going to say about it). Dick explains to us that 1) the electrical shock fried Butcher’s vocal chords and rendered him mute and that 2) the shock caused Butcher’s cells to multiply at such a rate that he is now …. indestructible!

Anyway, Butcher proceeds to spend the rest of the movie tracking down and murdering his former criminal associates.  Even before you reach the most sexist ending in the history of American cinema, it’s all rather silly. It’s also rather slow. The film lasts 70 minutes and I would say that 20 of those minutes consist of pure padding.

However, as often happened with B-movies, the low budget occasionally works to the film’s advantage. The flat black-and-white and the stark sets may have been an unintentional consequence of economic reality but, at the same time, they give the film a much needed edge.

Much as the low budget accidentally worked to the film’s advantage, so to did the personal demons of Lon Chaney, Jr. contribute to making him into a surprisingly effective and disturbingly believable killer. Though he’s best remembered for playing the handsome and soulful Larry Talbot in the original Wolf Man, by the time Lon Chaney, Jr. made Indestructible Man, years of heavy drinking, smoking, and self-destructive behaviour had caught up with the former matinée idol. Chaney’s ravaged face, marked by deep lines and sporting a permanently grim expression, makes him perfect for this role. The highest praise that I can pay to Chaney’s performance is that you look at him and you truly believe that his character would be nicknamed Butcher.

Lisa Marie Bowman, HORRORPEDIA – guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens

Other reviews:

“It is a rather lame story that seems more like a plot of an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits than a feature film (maybe that is why it is only 70 minutes long). The movie isn’t very good and it isn’t very fun… there is a reason it is often a bargain B-Movie.” JP Roscoe, Basement Rejects

“There are many moments of lunacy: the map to the stolen money has no landmarks or writing on it, save for a big “X”; the professor’s assistant apparently drives Chaney’s freshly-executed corpse home in the back of his car; Chaney’s stripper girlfriend eagerly agrees to go out with the lieutenant tracking him down when the detective reveals his first name is “Dick” (!).” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

“The worst of it is that Chaney doesn’t even get much chance to do what little acting he was capable of; his only dialogue is in the opening scene between Benton and Lowe, and after that he pretty much just stumbles around looking angry in between extended extreme close-ups on his puffy eyes and bulbous, alcohol-ravaged nose.” Scott Ashlin, 1,000 Misspent Hours and Counting

” …quite a good piece of film noir; dialogue, structure and cinematography all make it quite clear where the movie’s allegiances lie. It owes debts, too, to the horror genre, not only in the person of its star but also in some later moments of grue and in particular in its frequent default to creepily lit close-ups of the Butcher’s crazed eyes.” John Grant, Noirish

“A dismal effort which barely provides life for its poor script, let alone poor Lon Chaney Jr.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982

Cast and characters:

  • Lon Chaney, Jr. … Charles “Butcher” Benton
  • Casey Adams … Lt. Richard “Dick” Chasen – The Giant Claw; The Face of Marble
  • Marian Carr … Eva Martin, a burlesque artiste
  • Ross Elliott … Paul Lowe
  • Stuart Randall … Captain John Lauder
  • Marvin Press … Henchman “Squeamy” Ellis
  • Ken Terrell … Henchman Joe Marcelli
  • Roy Engel … The Desk Sergeant
  • Robert Foulk … Harry the Bartender
  • Robert Shayne … Dr. Bradshaw – The Monster that Challenged the World 
  • Joe Flynn … Bradshaw’s Assistant
  • Peggy Maley … Francine, a burlesque artiste
  • Marjorie Bennett … Floozie at Bar

Choice dialogue:

Dr. Bradshaw: “No, no, it’s too late for the amyl nitrate.”

Captain John Lauder: “These reports sound like they come from a bunch of loonies!”

Film locations:

Angels Flight, Los Angeles, California, USA
Bradbury Building, Los Angeles, California, USA

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