Sculptor Georges Bonnet looks in his thirties – but is really over a century old. But the secret of his youthful appearance is linked to the disappearance of beautiful young women…
One of those Hammer films that often goes under the radar, The Man Who Could Cheat Death is probably best known as the Lee-Cushing movie in which the latter didn’t appear – Anton Diffring was hired instead (the reasons behind Cushing’s departure are discussed in Marcus Hearn’s excellent essay in the booklet accompanying this release). Diffring had played the central role in a short TV version of the play on which the movie was based – The Man in Half Moon Street – so was an obvious choice, although it often seems as if he’s in a different movie to the rest of the cast, their interactions never quite gelling. This may be because Jimmy Sangster’s script wasn’t rewritten to suit his particular delivery, but watching the movie now it seems like a deliberate choice by Diffring, and one that director Terence Fisher didn’t guide him away from. Christopher Lee also never seems quite comfortable in his role, and this disconnect on the part of both leading men doesn’t help the movie.
The film never really shakes off its theatrical roots, both in terms of its dialogue and setting. The opening and closing sequences are odd – the start feels disconnected from the rest of the film (who exactly is meant to be doing the stalking? It doesn’t fit with the mythology set up in the movie), while the end seems heavily curtailed – although various cuts did have to be made even to get an X certificate. However, you will become engaged with Bonnet’s increasingly desperate plight.
This new release looks very good and brings out the richness of the sets, and there are two separate interviews as bonuses, with Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby, both of which are well worth watching, once you’ve seen the film!
Verdict: A Hammer curiosity that’s definitely worth a look. 7/10