“The indestructible is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings.”—Franz Kafka
As children, we soared into the realms of daydreaming and visited fantastic worlds of make-believe. Some of these worlds saw us being cops & robbers, cowboys & Indians, or superheroes. Being a superhero usually entailed tucking a towel in the back of a shirt flying around with our arms out as we fought evil. Though we were pint size in our minds we were indestructible. Nonetheless, bodies grow, ideals change, real world matters come knocking and we realize we are anything but indestructible. If only for one day we could be indestructible and cope as we try to achieve every goal we have within the hectic twenty-four hour day, well then friend, let’s discuss The Indestructible Man (1956).
Charles “Butcher” Benton, legendary actor Lon Chaney Jr. of Universal’s The Wolfman (1941) spends his last minutes of life on death row after being double-crossed on a heist gone awry by his three cohorts. “Butcher” vows to return from the grave to rectify their disloyalty and is executed in the gas chamber without revealing the location of the $600,000. Lt. Dick Chasen, Max Showalter (then billed as Casey Adams) of Sixteen Candles (1984), is a determined gumshoe working the case tirelessly until the stolen greenbacks are recovered. Upon termination, “Butcher’s” body is sold on the black market and transferred to Professor Bradshaw, Robert Shayne of How to Make a Monster (1958), for further medical experiments. Chasen (who has a great radio voice) questions the dead convict’s stripper-girlfriend Eva, Marian Carr of Kiss Me Deadly (1955), in hopes of locating the loot. The detective and his subject fall for each other (love at first sight) during her interrogation and she decides to go straight.
Like a 1950’s film noir/Frankenstein hybrid meets The Maltese Falcon (1941), Bradshaw manages to reanimate the “Butcher” back to life with speedball of chemicals and electricity making our convict corpse a physical indestructible force to be reckoned with. “Butcher,” alive once again, but mute due to the burning of his vocal chords during reanimation, runs off in a murderous rage on his road to redemption seeking his old partners and his money.
Indestructible Man, a low budget science fiction crime “B” flick directed by Jack Pollexfen of The Man from Planet X (1951), was usually billed as a double feature with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It is very loosely based on Man Made Monster (1941), which also starred a young strapping and healthy looking Chaney. Chaney, once a promising Universal actor and son of actor and makeup master Lon Chaney of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Unfortunately, Chaney has no dialogue in the film, past the intro of him on death row. His emotions were captured perfectly through extreme close-ups and his eyes carry the story. Unfortunately, Chaney by this time was showing the signs of years of hard living as he battled with the bottle. Come the 1950’s, Chaney was known to take any bit part that came along for income and he would kindly request no dialogue changes to the script past lunch due to his concern over continuity interfering with his planned afternoon inebriation sessions. In a bizarre connection, Chaney’s organs were donated to medical science upon his death in 1973 for display to show the signs of heavy abuse of alcohol.
Indestructible Man has been released countless times on low budget distribution bargain bin collections due to it falling in the abyss of public domain and has also had the honor of being lampooned by the Mystery Science Theater 3K crew. Though grainy depending on the copy you snag, there is plenty of Los Angeles stock footage adding to the authenticity of this overlooked mid 50’s film noir entry. Another neat tidbit of info is the film’s timeframe is only 72 hours and the runtime on most DVD copies is 72 minutes, so it’s a quick kill on a lunch break or before bedtime.
Indestructible Man is no way in the same class as noir classes starring Bogart, or Ray Milland entries, but it is worth a view for a quick time killer or if you enjoy Lon Chaney Jr. Though the movie has its flaws, the Indestructible Man shows just how destructible Chaney was as alcoholism deteriorated him. Bloated and tired-looking, a once healthy, virile man lumbers around the movie with sad, remorseful eyes (perhaps pondering what his life in Hollywood was like before he partook into the hard stuff). I do not pass judgment on those who like to drink as I am known to engage in the western normalcy of a social drink with a friend now and again. The heavy daily consumption, binges and the disease are my concerns with the effects of alcohol abuse. Dear reader, if you feel you have indeed sank to the bottom of a bottle; please contact your family, a friend, or a counselor for help. Your friends here at The Intestinal Fortitude want you to be with us a very long time. Be responsible out there and remember what Civil War General Stonewall Jackson said, “I am more afraid of alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.”