Friday, October 03, 2014


In a very effective opening, a bus traveling at high speed careens off the road and hits a power line, electrocuting everyone inside—except for Dan McCormack (Lon Chaney Jr.), a sideshow performer who goes by the name Dynamo Dan the Electric Man, who is miraculously unharmed. Dr. Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds), an electrobiologist, theorizes that he may have a built-in immunity to electric shock from his many years performing tricks with electricity, tricks he calls "yokel shockers" that nonetheless involve him subjecting himself to short shocks on a regular basis. Lawrence's assistant Dr. Rigas (Lionel Atwill) sees McCormack as a perfect guinea pig to test his theory that given a series of electrical treatments, a man could be "produced" who would essentially live off of electric power; he would become invulnerable to pain and his will could be controlled by the giver of the electricity.  Unbeknownst to the kindly Lawrence, the Naziish Rigas subjects McCormack to increasing levels of electricity. The family dog, once very friendly to McCormack, starts freaking out in his presence, and soon Rigas has McCormack, whose head glows like a light bulb, in a rubberized suit, shooting electricity from his hands, needing to get his "fixes" of power from Rigas. When Rigas goads McCormack into killing the meddling Lawrence, McCormack is found guilty of murder, but when they try to electrocute him, he becomes superhumanly strong, escapes, and goes on the requisite monster rampage.

For the past twelve years, I have reserved October for reviewing overlooked or rarely-seen horror and sci-fi movies only, but last year I felt like I was hitting the bottom of the barrel, so this year that tradition is over. But for old time's sake, I thought I'd throw a handful of horror flicks into the mix. This is one of the more obscure Universal films of the classic era and it's a pretty good one. At times early on, it seems like a dry run for Chaney before he played the lead in the genuine classic THE WOLF MAN a few months later; like that movie's Larry Talbot, Dynamo Dan is a genial lug of a guy trapped by circumstances he can't control or understand. Talbot's fate seems more tragic, partly because Dan is not especially well developed as a character—he really only has one scene of dialogue before he starts to lose his humanity. He remains sympathetic but at a distance. There's an extraneous romance in the film between a reporter (Frank Albertson) and Lawrence's daughter (Anne Nagel), but they could be lifted out of story with little damage—Albertson is stuck with a couple of comic relief scenes though they are relatively painless. Nagel's there largely as someone to feel sorry for Dan and to be a damsel in distress at the climax. Hinds is fine as the good doc, and Atwill is gloriously mad, especially when he's decked out in his little black goggles as he gives Chaney his jolts. Nowadays, Dan's need for electricity seems to be a perfect metaphor for an addict's need for drugs, and Rigas's hope for a race of supermen needs no annotation. The effect of Chaney's electric glow is pulled off quite well. Chaney played a variation on this character in 1956's INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN but this is by far the better movie. [DVD]

No comments: