1956 sci-fi horror/crime thriller, ‘Indestructible Man’, from screenplay writers Vy Russell and Sue Dwiggins and director/producer Jack Pollexfen, tells the story of Charles “Butcher” Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.), who is in jail ready to be executed for murder and robbery, after being double-crossed by his attorney and two partners in crime. He swears revenge against the three men, before dying in the gas chamber.
At the same time, a cancer research scientist tells his assistant to retrieve Benton’s body and bring it to the lab for experiments. During the experiment, which involves shocking Benton with copious levels of electricity, Benton is accidently brought back to life and becomes the ‘Indestructible Man’! From then on, he can’t speak, but has super strength and cannot be harmed by bullets, bazooka shells or seemingly any other method with which the police try to kill him. Benton then goes after the men who betrayed him.
You might be wondering why a cancer researcher specifically wants Benton’s body to experiment on. Or why studying cancer involves shocking dead bodies with 300,000 volts. Or maybe even why the doctor's assistant is allowed to claim Benton’s body from the morgue in the first place. But all this could probably be explained by assuming that Russell, Dwiggins and Pollexfen had read or seen ‘Frankenstein’ and wanted to recreate the same scenario, with a different story...whether that story made sense or not.
So anyway, a large part of the movie is narrated by the “hero” of the film, Detective Richard “Dick” Chasen (Max Showalter, listed as Casey Adams), who spends more time “chasen’” Benton’s supposed girlfriend, Eva Martin (Marian Carr doing her best Marilyn Monroe impression), than he does chasing actual criminals. Ignoring that, I find film-noir style narration irritating in general, but it’s especially unnecessary here because most of the things Chasen enlightens us about are already being blatantly shown on screen.
Portions of the film are set in a burlesque house, which seems to be the equivalent of setting it in a strip club nowadays. As racy as it might have been back in the 50’s, they only show women in swimsuit-esque corseted outfits, high heels and stockings, so it’s very tame and elegant when you see it now. I like burlesque costumes and 50’s glamour, so even if these scenes were just meant as eye candy, they were actually a plus about the movie’s visual style for me as well.
Luckily enough, Detective Chasen also likes burlesque and is more than willing to visit the dance hall (shock!); staring at all the dancers and literally following every woman that walks past with his eyes. I actually found his sexism, ogling and mildly inappropriate flirtation pretty amusing though (think of the character John Linden from the 1962 film ‘Carnival of Souls’ and you’ll know why!). Especially when he responded to Eva’s question “do you have a first name?” with “uh-huh…Dick”, whilst grinning like a twelve-year-old and sounding like an Elvis impersonator. I thought that his name suited him immensely well.
There is, of course, a real reason for Chasen going to the burlesque house - to interview Eva about Benton…and, naturally, to ask her out to dinner. And by dinner, I mean a hamburger at a drive thru. He does find out snippets of information, but Eva is so naïve and oblivious to what’s happening that spending so much time with her isn’t really beneficial to the plot.
I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy ‘Indestructible Man’, because it actually had a semi-decent plot and, smarmy as he was, Max Showalter wasn’t irritating as Chasen. Lon Chaney Jr. was also quite good in his role as Benton and managed to convey what was going on through his physical acting, only occasionally having help from those pointless voiceovers. I do wish he hadn’t tried to do the scary, Bela Lugosi in Dracula-like eyes though…they twitched so much it was hard to concentrate on anything else!
There were also some interesting shots with great cinematography, such as the scene in the prison where the bars of Benton’s cell are backlit and you can see a ‘tunnel’ of cells/bars in the background. These, however, were sparse and it was shot without the trademark hard lighting of both horror and noir, both of which genres it was clearly intended to be.
The main off-putting point about this feature though was the ending. I’ll warn you now that I’m going to give away the finale of the film, so if you want to watch it, don’t read anymore. Whilst the romantic sub-plot between Chasen and Eva at the end is also ridiculous, just as their previous conversations it was a source of amusement so I didn’t care. No, the problem I have with the end is that after being the ‘Indestructible Man’, unharmed by explosive shells and such, Benton is ultimately stopped by fire. Yes, that’s right, fire! After being severely injured by a flamethrower, Benton’s skin is no longer able to withstand anything and his super strength disappears too. It’s a little strange that being fried by electricity made him Superman, but a little flame could finish him.
Overall ‘Indestructible Man’ wasn’t a bad movie, but I can say it was one of Lon Chaney Jr.’s best either. It’s worth watching once and is amusing, but as a sci-fi horror/thriller, there are much better films in the sub-genre.