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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

"Let it sink into your head that this is the year 1940, and you've been buried, lost, frozen in the ice for ten years."
- Dr. Leon Kravaal (Boris Karloff)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: December 06, 2005

Stars: Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers
Other Stars: Stanley Brown, John Dilson, Hal Taliaferro, Byron Foulger
Director: Nick Grinde

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, human experimentation)
Run Time: 01h:14m:04s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 043396111639
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's been a very good month indeed for fans of Boris Karloff. Fully ten of the horror maestro's films have arrived on DVD within the space of a few weeks from four different studios, including three of his best in the Val Lewton Collection, four of the five films contained in The Bela Lugosi Collection from Universal, plus Voodoo Island from MGM and his turn as Dr. Jekyll contained on The Best of Abbott & Costello vol. 4. And to top off this welcome whirlwind of Karloffmania, Columbia has released another of the classic "mad doctor" series that he did for them in the early 1940s, following up on 2003's release of The Devil Commands (1941).

Dr. Tim Mason (Roger Pryor) is deeply involved in cryogenics research, along with nurse Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers). But the hospital administration feels that he has announced his work prematurely and forces him to go on a leave of absence. Mason takes the time to follow up on the mysterious disappearance of cryogenics pioneer Leon Kravaal (Karloff) ten years earlier; visiting his secluded island cottage, they discover a hidden cellar laboratory and a massive freezer. To their amazement, Kravaal was frozen inside and is revivable. It seems that he had attempted to persuade district attorney John Hawthorne (John Dilson), sheriff Stanton (Hal Taliaferro), coroner Dr. Bassett (Byron Foulger) and angry heir Bob Adams (Stanley Bowen) that he was treating Bob's uncle, not killing him. Intending to immobilize the group with a poisonous gas, Kravaal accidentally stumbled onto a formula that allowed men to be frozen solid and then revived unharmed even years later. But the revived but still angry young Adams destroys the formula, sending Kravaal over the edge into madness, and a determination to experiment on his human guinea pigs to re-discover the lost formula.

Granted, the concept is fairly goofy, but Karloff as usual sells it well enough to be watchable. After all, it's not as if cryogenics isn't still considered to be an option for treatment; while the stories about Walt Disney may be false, it's clear that Ted Williams fell for it hook, line and decapitation. The main problem with the story is the happenstance of the hastily-mixed toxins proving to be the miracle substance that everyone has been searching for. Once you can swallow that tidbit, the film has some interesting things to say about science in the midst of the horror melodrama.

The theme of science gone wrong is nothing new, but it's handled in particularly chilling manner here. Kravaal goes from a charitable savior of mankind to a veritable Josef Mengele on quick provocation, willing to experiment on humans at random. Even more frightening, the supposedly sane Dr. Mason willingly drops into lockstep with Kravaal, participating in the experiments himself until it becomes clear that Kravaal might run out of test subjects and start in on him and Nurse Blair. Only when he falls into personal jeopardy does Mason try to take action to thwart Kravaal and his deranged plans, and Nurse Blair cheerily makes soup and tea for Kravaal and the prisoners through all this until she too is threatened. One might even read the portrayal of these two as comments on the "good Germans," were it not for the fact that the worst atrocities of the concentration camps had not yet been widely publicized or even occurred; Mengele was not assigned to a camp until May of 1943, so this film seems rather prescient in its assessment of conscienceless scientific research.

This picture seems to have had an influence on the development of the then-new character Batman: Kravaal's secret cave hideout is accessible through a grandfather clock, as would be the case for many versions of Bruce Wayne, starting with the 1943 serial, also from Columbia. Most of the supporting cast here is iffy, with stiff and pedestrian performances. Byron Foulger does his usual good character work as the coroner, however. But the three leads do a fine job in selling multidimensional characters that are obsessed with their goals. In particular Karloff uses the role to demonstrate his range, covering the gamut of emotion as Kravaal. He's particularly good in the revival sequence, as he simultaneously comes to the realization that he has lost ten years of time, but also the knowledge that his formula has worked, mixing melancholy with triumph in a subtle portrayal. Now, if we could just get the other two "Mad Doctor" films without having to wait two years for each of them....

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is taken from what appears to be a very good condition source. It's crisp and clean, with very little damage. Most of the film demonstrate good greyscale. The final reel seems to get rather dupey and suffers more nicks than the rest of the film put together, suggesting that it may have come from another, lower quality source. But it's still quite watchable for a film 65 years old.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono sounds very good for its vintage. There's a very slight hiss audible at reference levels, but most viewers will never notice it. Dialogue is quite clear. The film has almost no music at all, giving it a cinema verité feel, which otherwise might have revealed some shortcomings in the audio track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Frankenfish, Devour, Vampires: The Turning
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Chaptering is a little thin. There are no extras other than some unrelated horror trailers (two of them red-band R trailers) presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A literally chilling exercise in medical madness, this is a welcome release that looks very nice for the most part.


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