Friday, February 8, 2008

The Man Who Wouldn't Die

"The Man Who Wouldn't Die" (1942) opens on a dark and stormy night. No, really it is, a dark and stormy night and the scene is a country mansion. Three men are shown digging a grave, dumping a tarpaulin-wrapped body into it, and filling in the grave.

Later that night, Catherine Wolff (cute Marjorie Weaver) arrives to tell her father Dudley (Paul Harvey, not the radio commentator), much younger stepmother Anna (Helene Reynolds) and family friend Dr. Haggard (DeMille leading man and associate Henry Wilcoxon) that she has gotten married and her new husband Roger will be arriving soon to meet the family.

Asleep in bed, Catherine is awaken by a noise and sees a man with glowing eyes standing in her doorway. She screams as he takes a shot at her but misses. The man with glowing eyes is seen by others on the estate. Could it be the man who was buried in the opening scene? It could be, since they dig up the grave only to find it empty. And Dr. Haggard has laboratory equipment in the basement right out of a Frankenstein movie.

Catherine calls in her friend, the wisecracking private detective Michael Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) to pose as her husband and solve the mystery. Of course, he has a houseful of suspects to contend with, though one less when Dr. Haggard is found murdered in his bedroom. There’s also a butler (familiar character actor Billy Bevan) and the caretaker (Francis Ford, John’s brother).

It’s all very enjoyable. 20th Century Fox’s B movies, especially their mysteries, have a special gloss and sheen about them and this one is no exception. There’s nothing like an isolated mansion – yes, and a dark and stormy night – to get the pulse racing of any mystery fan.

Nolan isn’t quite the Michael Shayne of Brett Halliday’s books, but he’s so likeable I don’t mind. (Shayne was more coarse and rougher around in the books than Nolan plays him).

A truly fast-paced 65 minutes, “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die” is a most pleasant way to spend a cold, winter evening.

Rating for “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die”: Two and a half stars.

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