Indestructible Man directed by Jack Pollexfen
Oh, what a wacky film experience I had over the weekend: the 1956 Lon Chaney, Jr. outing Indestructible Man! This movie was originally shown as part of a double feature for the kiddies back when, paired with one of my favorite sci-fi shlock adventures ever, World Without End, for one truly mind-boggling afternoon at the movies. In the film in question, Chaney plays a criminal named Butcher Benton, who, after a botched robbery, has been sentenced to the gas chamber. He is indeed put to death, but soon after, his body is sold to a scientist (Robert Shayne, who most viewers will remember from his role of Inspector Henderson on TV’s Adventures of Superman, and whose work I recently enjoyed in the 1953 film The Neanderthal Man) who is doing experiments regarding a cancer cure.
Benton’s body is shot up with drugs and exposed to around 300,000 volts of juice, which treatment manages to actually bring the late con back to life! He also now has fairly impenetrable skin — a hypodermic that the scientist inserts into his arm is promptly bent out of shape — and, as later develops, cannot be killed by bullets … or even by a direct bazooka blast! Benton proceeds to quickly kill the scientist and his assistant (an uncredited Joe Flynn … yes, the future Captain “Leadbottom” Binghamton himself, from TV’s McHale’s Navy!) before hijacking a car to drive from the San Francisco area to L.A., where he intends to kill the two cons and the crooked lawyer who had double-crossed him in his last caper.
The story is told in flashback and narrated by the detective on the case, whose name is Dick Chasen. (I wish MY name were Dick Chasen!) He is played by an actor whose face you will recall, and whose name is sometimes given as Casey Adams, and sometimes as Max Showalter; you will probably best recall him from his role in the Marilyn Monroe breakthrough film Niagara. Ultimately, Dick teams up with Butcher’s last gal pal, a burlesque dancer played by Marian Carr, who seems to wear nothing but her burlesque outfit wherever she goes, providing the film with some undeniable visual appeal…
OK, I’m not gonna lie to you and say that Indestructible Man is a quality film, but at 70 minutes, it surely never does wear out its welcome. The film makes excellent use of its L.A. locales — including the famous Bradbury Building, where the Butcher throws one of his enemies to his doom, and the now-extinct Angels Flight funicular — and director Jack Pollexfen (who had directed Shayne in The Neanderthal Man and would later helm the sci-fi favorite The Man From Planet X) shoots his film in a noirish manner, abetted by B&W photography.
As for Chaney, he gets very little dialogue in the film, which dialogue is limited to his prison cell, before he is put to death; after he is revivified, his vocal cords have apparently been burnt to cinders by those 300,000 volts, forcing the big lug to limit his acting to grimacing, and squinting up his eyes in a fairly menacing manner. The film features a somewhat disappointing ending, with the Butcher scrambling through the sewers of L.A. as the cops pursue him (reminiscent of the finale in the great 1948 film noir He Walked By Night, but not nearly as well done) and then, for some reason, climbing atop the works in some kind of power station.
In all, Indestructible Man is a cheezy, cheaply made little potboiler, combining noir and horror elements, whose only real claim on the viewer’s attention is the opportunity offered to watch the great Lon Chaney, Jr. mug his way around. And for some, including me, that might just be good enough…