The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Added to the many miracles performed by modern science that have accounted for the saving of thousands upon thousands of human beings, comes its newest and most modern discovery - frozen therapy. Estimates of how long frozen therapy can produce a state of suspended animation range from days to years. But on the fact that disease can be arrested - that life can be prolonged, by freezing human beings in ice, the medical world agrees. In research hospitals today, men and women are alive and breathing - their bodies encased in ice.
My Karloff films are starting to run together. Within a few short days, I watched The Man with Nine Lives (1940) on Svengoolie, as well as The Haunted Strangler (1958) and Corridors of Blood (1958) for our podcast. Let’s see… this is the one where Karloff plays a scientist who creates “frozen therapy” to put his patients on ice until they can be cured.
This is not the one where Karloff plays a scientist who creates an anesthetic to give his patients pain-free surgery. Nor is it the one where Karloff plays a writer who crusades to prove the innocence of a convicted killer. The Man with Nine Lives may have more in common with Corridors of Blood (frozen therapy and anesthetic); however; in all three movies, he’s got great intentions that tend to go bad.
According to Turner Classic Movies, both The Man with Nine Lives and The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, Karloff as scientist wanting to bring people back to life), were based in part on the real-life saga of Dr. Robert Cornish…
...a University of California professor who, in 1934, announced he had restored life to a dog named Lazarus that he had put to death by clinical means. The resulting publicity (including a Time magazine article and motion picture footage of the allegedly re-animated canine) led to Cornish being booted off campus. He continued his experiments for a few more years, although he was denied access to the cadavers of prisoners put to death in the state prison system. Cornish reportedly served as a technical adviser to the earlier film, and a low budget feature called Life Returns (1935.)
Here, Karloff’s Dr. Leon Kravaal is on ice himself, the victim of his own experiment gone wrong, until Dr. Tim Mason (Roger Pryor), frustrated when his own experiments stall, inadvertently discovers his body while searching for his journals. It seems Kravaal gave the equivalent of the town’s torch-bearing mob the cold shoulder ten years ago and they all ended up frozen in an underground secret lab inside a secret lab.
After the cool art deco font of the opening credits, and the German-like curved ceiling of an operating room, The Man with Nine Lives quickly stops looking unique. Likewise, after Kravaal is discovered and the intriguing mystery is solved, the movie could very well have been a stage play with its locations limited to the underground lab(s.) There’s some atmosphere and claustrophobia, but mostly it’s talky and deliberately paced.
I like the conflict between “good” scientist and “bad” scientist, though. Mason learns why you should never meet your heroes, then demonstrates that nice guys finish last when he’s ultimately praised for work that Kravaal pioneered. Kravaal, on the other hand, gets what he deserves by being impatient in his relentless pursuit. It’s two sides of a scientific coin that’s flipped several times during the course of the 74-minute running time.
Written by Karl Brown
Story by Harold Shumate
Directed by Nick Grinde
Starring Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers, Stanley Brown, John Dilson
RT 74 min.
Released in April 18, 1940
Home Video Mill Creek Entertainment (DVD)
Rob Nixon, The Man with Nine Lives (1940)