Indestructible Man
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Indestructible Man

When ‘Indestructible Man’ was had its initial theatrical release I was too young to go to the movies, the fact of the matter is I was too young to go to school. I did attend a showing a dozen or so years later during my regular visits to the neighborhood movie house as part of a creature feature afternoon. This is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination; there is a valid consensus that it barely qualified as a professionally made movie. The point is a flick can still be fun to watch and invoke a few pleasant, nostalgic memories. The segment of film fandom that remember this kind of flick and the venerable older theaters that displayed those bad movies were still a primary source of entertainment back before the plethora of digital and electronic wonders so common place in most households in the county. The limited choices of programming available on the meager handful of television channels still could not fully compete with the excitement of going out with friends to a movie regardless of the quality. We would frequently have a better time with really bad films revealing in the unintentional humor they inevitably contained. This particular film is finding as fresh DVD release thanks to a little distributor, Retromedia, a company specializing in the flicks that kept grind houses and drive-in theaters in business. These cheap exploitation films formed the foundation of our teenage viewing habits. ‘ Indestructible Man’ is tame by those standards and closer to the science fiction/horror end of the spectrum but still fits in the general mandate of this distributor.

This movie does admittedly takes an interesting twist in establishing the voice of the story, albeit a contrived plot device. The movie attempts to emulate a more mature form of cinema that its genre would suggest, the traditional forties film noir crime thriller. The tale unfolds in flashbacks narrated by detective Dick Lieutenant Dick Chasen (Casey Adams). Re recants to the audience what he admits amounts to the most bizarre three days in a long and varied career. It all begins when a gang of thieves run into trouble during a bank robbery. A person was killed during the heist but subsequently one member of the crew took the fall, Charles "Butcher" Benton (Lon Chaney). He is tried, convicted and sentenced to be executed by lethal gas as mandated by California law. He went to the gas chamber betrayed by his fellow criminals, Squeamy (Marvin Ellis) and Joe (Ken Terrell) and his crooked lawyer Lowe (Ross Elliott). After the lawful sentence was carried out and Benton executed his corpse is purloined and illegally sold to Professor Bradshaw (Robert Shayne) who is in the midst of some unorthodox research. Intrinsically his goal is admirable but his methodology is unethical. He experiments on the Butcher’s dead body reanimating it. Examination of his cellular structure reveals he is now impervious to almost any damage making him indestructible. The process has left Benson little more than a limbering, mute creature with only one motivation; revenge. Besides wanting to get back at his treacherous pair of cohorts his lawyer, Lowe gets himself on the hit list.

During the trial Lowe had been inordinately curious about where Benson hid the loot. $600,000 is not too shabby now but sixty years ago it was an unimaginable fortune. The Lowe is convinced Benson hid the loot and left a map to its location with his girlfriend, Eva (Marion Carr), a stripper. Allegedly the ill-gotten gain has been concealed somewhere in the vast sewage system beneath the streets of Los Angles.

Lt. Chasen is assigned to a case involving strange sightings of the Butcher, a man known to be dead. The detective starts off tracking down the fugitive corpse’s known associates. As could only happen in a cheap flick like this yet another plot contrivance is instilled in the story; Eva is not at all the cheap floosy, an era appropriate term, that the detective expected. She is actually quite nice and the detective is immediately attracted to her; a feeling that is reciprocated. It is usually necessary to introduce some elements of normal life that the audiences’ members can readily identify with. Although any semblance of romance is anachronistic is a vehicle like this it follows the tradition of a leading man and damsel in distress; required even in a ‘B’ Sci-Fi. This also serves to further humanize the intrepid lawman a requisite in a story that is pretty much devoid of morally upstanding characters. This preponderance of villains does fit with the general film noir style narrative and crime thriller motif.

Lon Chaney Jr. had performing in his genes. His father, Lon Chaney was a star in the silent film era and famous stage actor known as ‘The man of a Thousand Faces’. This nom de voyage was given due to his extraordinary skill in the application of stage makeup and an unprecedented command of his facial expressions and body language. His son lived in the shadow of his famous father but carved out his own niche in horror films due to his role as the Wolf-man. At the peak of his career Chaney the younger possessed an incredible range as demonstrated by his part in ‘Of Mice and Men’. His career would continue for almost twenty more years consisting mostly of cheap flick like this. Cancer was largely cited as why his trademark resonating baritone voice was not heard here and also viewed as contributing to his limbering screen presence. This decline in a once thriving career was unfortunately not uncommon and did have the side effect of providing this kind of movie with an unending supply of recognizable names for the marquee.

I have seen several of the public domain releases of this movie and this particular offering is better than most. There are signs of age and less than optimal storage present but anyone that recalls seeing this flick under the conditions cited above will understand and appreciate how fitting this condition of the film actually is. It is still fun to watch despite its myriad of faults.

Posted 04/15/2013

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