1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Indestructible Man

Indestructable Man (IM) is certainly a B-movie, but it's only just barely a sci-fi B-movie. For the majority of its runtime, it's a routine pulp crime drama. The only sci-fi link is the brief scene of a misguided doctor who uses some electroshock gizmo to revive the dead man, played by Lon Chaney Jr. Someone looking for aliens, saucers or rockets will likely be annoyed by IM. It's primarily a comic-book-grade crime tale. However, for fans of 50s sci-fi, there are a couple little bits that make it worth watching (provided it's free. Purchasing a DVD would be a waste).

Quick Plot Synopsis
"Butcher" Benton is on death row, set up by his crooked lawyer and two accomplices, for an armored car robbery which they all committed. Benton is executed (gas chamber), but his body is "bought" from the morgue by a doctor's lab assistant. The doctor is experimenting on some vague cancer cure but needs a human body to experiment upon. Naturally, it's Benton's body. The electroshock treatment brings Benton back to life, but has also transformed him in an indestructible man. Nothing can penetrate his skin. He kills the doctor and assistant, then heads to Los Angeles to settle the score with those who set him up. He also kills a few people along his way. When he gets to LA, he kills the two accomplices and the lawyer but eludes the police because he hides in the sewers. The police go after him down in the sewers, with a bazooka and some flame throwers. These don't stop him, but force him up into an electrical power station. While trying to escape, Benton climbs up onto a moving crane which eventually (big surprise!) touches a high voltage line. Benton is dead, again.

Why is this movie fun?
It takes a bit of digging to find some redeeming features to IM, but there are a few. A young Joe Flynn plays the bit part of Dr. Bradshaw's assistant. He would become more famous as Captain Binghamton in the mid-1960s' TV sitcom McHale's Navy. Also interesting was the whole search-the-sewers-of-LA scene. This imagery debuted in Them! (June 1954) and re-used in The Snow Creature (November '54). Imitation as sincere flattery.
The plot device of an unhurtable man would get used very differently in M.Night Shamalan's Unbreakable (2000). M.Night went for the noble/heroic side. IM stoops to the grim noir side.

Cold War Angle
There really is no connection to nukes or the Cold War. IM is almost pure pulp crime comic book. No straining of analogies or abuse of metaphors could stretch it into a Cold War angst story.

Gotta Love Them Sewers -- Los Angeles must have been very proud of their sewer system. IM parroted Them ('54) in stating that there are over 700 miles of sewer tunnels beneath LA. Wilder had his snow monster skulking around down there too in The Snow Creature ('54). It won't be the last time a monster gets down there. If you've lost your monster, save time. Look in the sewers of LA.

Patchwork Plot -- It's hard not to notice that the story line of IM is cobbled together from previous works. Take a banal crime drama. Insert a few pages of Dr. Frankenstein (complete with the criminal brain angle). Cut back to the trashy crime story. Graft in the part about looking for the monster in the sewers of LA. End the chase with a kill-the-monster-with-high-voltage segment. Wrap it up with a light-hearted and/or romantic non-sequetor, and Viola! You've got script. It's just that easy. In many ways, the pulp crime plot is reminiscent to that of Creature with the Atomic Brain ('55)

Naive Danger -- IM taps into the somewhat tired stereotype of the naive scientist as the cause of everyone's trouble (and his own demise). Oh sure, he is out to do good for humanity, but with a reckless naivety. Therein lies the age-old cultural mythos -- anxiety about how "science" brings mankind danger, even if well intentioned. This theme isn't so much explored in IM as it's just capitalized upon for a plot device: a sure sign of it being a cultural myth element. (and why do the assistants always come up with the criminals?)

There's More Than One? -- An odd little bit of script writing occurs about half way through. Benton has killed the first accomplice (Joe) and just got done killing the second, Squeemy Ellis. A crowd gathers around the dead man to gawk. Eva comes up behind a man in the crowd who tells her that it was Squeemy. "You mean, Squeemy Ellis?" she asks. Huh? How many "Squeemys" could there be? Was this a common name among LA riff-raff? Bizarre.

PERMANENT Press -- The electoshock not only gave Benton impenetrable skin, it made his clothes indestructible too. In the sewers, the police shot him with a bazooka, (which only gave him a tummy cramp) and torched him with a flame thrower. But, when he tired of that and left, his clothes were perfectly fine. Amazing! Perhaps the miracle fabric is the secret to his indestructibility.

Dark Side / Light Side -- The notion of being indestructible has been cast as both a good thing and bad. Superman was an early example of it being a good thing. In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan would use it too in his Unbreakable. Here we have the dark side of that same power. This is more of a Cold War worry personified. If we can't hurt the communists, they could do whatever they wanted...

Bottom line? IM is probably best skipped if you're easily annoyed by pulp crime stories (suave detectives, shapely dames, brutish criminals, etc.), because that's what it is, for the most part. But, if you're a hard-core devotee to 50s sci-fi B-movies, seeing the formulaic scenes are like figurines of the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore -- cheap copies of something impressive. The sci-fi fan will know the original and smile at the homage.


Nightowl said...

Hi Michael D'Amico,
Give me your email in a comment if you'd like to discuss your project. Comments are moderated here at ClassicScifi, so it won't go public.


Darci said...

This film reminds me of the films Boris Karloff made in the late 1930s and early 1940s, such as The Walking Dead and The Man They Could Not Hang. It also reminds me of Man Made Monster, the 1941 film that provided Lon Chaney, Jr.'s first starring role. Ironically, that script had been purchased to star Karloff.

I can't help feeling sorry for "Butcher" Benton, who was seriously wronged. Chaney Jr. almost always seemed to be cast in these semi-sympathetic parts.

thingmaker said...

See, here's the disconnect...
"IM is probably best skipped if you're easily annoyed by pulp crime stories (suave detectives, shapely dames, brutish criminals, etc.), because that's what it is, for the most part."
"The police go after him down in the sewers, with a bazooka and some flame throwers."
Who would skip that?