Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Starting in 1939, Boris Karloff made a string of B-level "mad scientist" films for Columbia. In summary, they all tend to sound the same (Karloff is a mad doctor who sets out to help mankind but winds up going a bit nutty and becoming a menace) but most of them are good enough to warrant at least one viewing, so the old saw, "Seen one, seen 'em all" doesn't quite hold true here. Most are out on DVD now and I'll probably be reviewing a few of them this month. This one begins with a doctor (Roger Pryor) demonstrating to his colleagues his work in deep freeze therapy as a way to fight cancer--he freezes a patient (by piling blocks of ice on her torso and aiming a couple of high-speed fans in her general direction!) and leaves her in that state for up to 5 days, which supposedly will kill off the cancer cells while leaving the rest of the body unharmed. Though the experiment is considered a qualified success, Pryor is reprimanded by his boss, Charles Trowbridge, for unfairly raising the public's hope for a definitive cure. Stung by the criticism, he and his assistant (Jo Ann Sayers) head off to Canada to look for a scientist (Karloff) who had done important work in freeze therapy but vanished without a trace ten years ago. The two learn that a group of men had gone to his island home to serve him with a warrant for holding a deep-freeze patient unwillingly, and they all vanished along with Karloff. At the decrepit house, Pryor and Sayers discover that all the men are still alive, trapped in a glacier ice vault. They thaw them out (mostly by serving them lots of hot coffee!) and learn that they stayed alive all those years because of a potentially poisonous vapor that Karloff used. A plan to take this important information to the outside world goes awry when one of the men (Stanley Brown), upset when he learns he's legally dead and unable to collect on an inheritance, attacks Karloff and destroys the vapor formula, causing the doctor to go a little crazy; he kills Brown and decides to experiment on the rest in an attempt to reconstruct the vapor. Things go from bad to worse for the motley group and Karloff winds up dead, though what's different here is that the story ends with Pryor taking the formula back to his hospital and vindicating Karloff. Pryor and Sayers make a singularly unappealing pair of leads, and the trapped men all blur together, leaving Karloff by default as the only real standout in the cast. Generally, he underplays his role and remains mostly sympathetic right to the end. The ice vault set is impressive (and you can actually see the actors' breath occasionally, so it must have been a cold set). The print is in very good shape until the last reel when annoying waves of flickering light appear for several minutes. [TCM]

No comments: