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Indestructible Man (1956)From the DVD case: Brought back to life by a scientist after being executed, a violent criminal hunts down his foes. Lon Chaney Jr. is “The Butcher,” large, incredibly strong, newly mute, and seriously angry. (1956,b&w)

Mark says: Indestructible Man ineffectively blends film noir with a monster movie. Neither genre is elevated through the union due to a horrendous script, lousy acting, poor editing, uninspired direction, and just an overall rotten concept. If not for an affection for Lon Chaney Jr. and a fondness for camp horror, I would have never made it through its 70 minute running time.

Much of the film is told in narration by Lt. Dick Chasen, played by Max Showalter (The Monster That Challenged the World). Lt. Chasen is supposed to be a hard-boiled Sam Spade type, but he falls miles short of pulling it off. He’s just not intimidating enough to make a go of this role. His nonsensical voiceover does not help matters. He often narrates events he did not witness or particulars he could not possibly know (what Benton was thinking, for example).He would have been much better off to play by the rules of fellow LA lawman, Joe Friday: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Of course, the main draw is Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man, The Alligator People) in the role of Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton. Benton is railroaded into execution by his crooked lawyer, Paul Lowe, played by Ross Elliott (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Monster on the Campus) and two thug cohorts, Squeamy Ellis (Marvin Ellis) and Joe Marcella (Ken Terrell, who also played in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Brain from Planet Arous). On the eve of his execution, Benton swears vengeance on the three men and refuses to divulge the location of the $600,000 he hid from their last heist.

After Benton’s execution, a scientist, Prof. Bradshaw (Robert Shayne of How to Make a Monster and War of the Satellites), retrieves the corpse to perform experiments. In an attempt to cure cancer, Bradshaw subjects Benton to “287,000 volts” of electricity, which somehow brings Benton back to life. Strangely, Benton’s vocal cords are fried, but his brain is not destroyed. Chaney plays the remainder of the film mute.

Benton quickly realizes that not only is he alive, but he has superhuman strength, too. A syringe needle bends when the professor attempts to get blood samples, and Benton finds he is able to toss around (and ultimately kill) the professor and his assistant without much exertion. Benton immediately lumbers from the lab to exact his vengeance.

Lon Chaney JrPoor Lon Chaney looks weary and old in this picture. It has been reported that his battle with alcohol may have been taking its toll by this point. It has also been speculated that the reason his character was rendered mute for the majority of the picture is because he had trouble remembering his lines. It doesn’t help that a close-up of Chaney’s tired and twitching eyes are used continually throughout the movie, making him appear ridiculous.

Benton is not much of a monster. Sure, he’s impervious to bullets, and he can lift the front end of a car, but he really doesn’t inspire a sense of dread. There are a few scenes at the end of the film after Benton has been scorched by a flamethrower where he looks vaguely gruesome, but for much of the picture he is simply a large man tossing people about, sometimes to their doom.

Benton’s girlfriend is a burlesque dancer named Eva Martin (Marion Carr). Benton is barely dead 10 minutes when Lt. Chasen starts putting the moves on the dame. This leads to one of the most infuriatingly dull scenes of the film. As Eva and Chasen sit in the front seat of a car eating hamburgers, they each tell their life stories in excruciating detail. Chasen describes how he became a cop (including details of his military career) and Eva relates how she fell into the disreputable business of burlesque dancing. The two, predictably, fall in love.

This dull “telling of the story” instead of showing the action is a flaw found later in the film as well. In one scene, a woman describes what Benton did to her boyfriend, when it would have been more exciting to see the event rather than to hear about it. Isn’t that what movies are for?

Indestructible Man is also cursed with sloppy editing. Some scenes appear from out of nowhere and without explanation. For example, a reference is made to Eva’s stay in the hospital, but the viewer has no idea as to why Eva was in the hospital in the first place. Similarly, there is a short scene involving a broken heel on Eva’s shoe that makes no sense whatsoever.

This film was obviously slapped together as cheaply as possible to make a quick buck using Chaney’s name as the draw. It does have some camp value, but even that is compromised by tedious dialog and vapid narration. Chaney is fun to watch in the opening scenes, but the close-ups of his twitching eyes become tiresome quickly.This is definitely for hardcore genre fans and completists only.

Directed by Jack Pollexfen.

Scene to watch for: Indestructible Man gets a blast from a flamethrower, and though he is badly burned, his clothes remain intact.

Line to listen for: “I always figured a policeman wasn’t really a human being.”

Trivia: Many TV fans will recognize Professor Bradshaw’s assistant as Joe Flynn, who played Capt. Wallace B. Binghamton in McHale’s Navy.

Bonus: Watch Indestructible Man for free at the Internet Archive.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! out of 5.

IMDb Link

13 Comments

  1. Another film I haven’t seen in decades, and another of those ones where I remember the drive to watch it was based almost solely on the revenge and superhuman themes. That is to say I liked the concept of it enough that I watched it as if I could will it to be a better movie.

  2. My copy has this simple heading on the reverse cover, “This legendary film offers greed, revenge and outrage.” Well, I was outraged after watching it. I couldn’t believe I actually paid to own it! Clearly not Chaney’s best film… but as painful as it is to admit, not his worst. Great review in spite of that fact. I eagerly await the next!

  3. Mike: I should have noted that the movie did have some potential. At least, it could have been more interesting than it was. In the posters released for the film it appeared Chaney was emitting electrical energy, which would have made the monster a little bit more fun. If the detective story was pieced together more coherently, that would have helped bundles, too. Still, this film seems to have been doomed from its conception.

    Clay: I think the funny thing about the description you posted is the phrase, “legendary film.” Wow, that’s a stretch.

    I have mentioned in other reviews, and in comments, how my father reminded me of Lon Chaney (others who knew my father also noted the resemblance), and so I always feel a little reluctant to judge his performances too harshly. But man, the poor guy just looks beat in this movie. And that twitching eye thing, just embarrassing.

    At least Lon held out a little longer than Lugosi before churning out the crap. I forgive them all, though. They really did bring a lot of joy to a lot of people through their works. I can hardly say the same.

  4. Hey Mark, not a film I’ve seen and, by your description, not one I’d be looking out for in a hurry. Great to see a new review up though.

  5. Thanks for dropping by, Taliesin! No, I don’t suppose you’d like this movie (no vampires!)

  6. I remember this one getting the MST3K treatment. I probably couldn’t have made it all the way through without the help of the ‘bots.

  7. I’ve seen surprisingly few of the MST3K series, but I am grateful that it seems to have brought a renewed interest in B and Z grade horror films.

    What happens to me after watching a movie get the MST3K treatment, is that I can’t watch the film again without thinking of the bots’ comments during certain scenes. Sort of like what happened to music after music videos became popular. Sort of a blessing and a curse.

    That said, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing the MST3K treatment of this movie. It’s sure not going to hurt it any.

  8. Great review. thanks.
    And we can download it for free, but by your review it would not be worth the effort.

    thanks again.

    – GoldCoaster

    http://goldcoaster.wordpress.com

  9. Hi, Mark, how have you been doing? Do you plan on writing again? I miss your reviews. Hope you’re OK, see ya.

  10. Sweet Mariana! Nice to hear from you. My divorce took a lot of enthusiasm for everything out of me. I’ve been promising people a new review for months now, but have not actually come through, yet.

    However, with October and Halloween approaching, I’m thinking about reviewing the 1973 film, The Legend of Hell House. Don’t hold me to that, though! I will review something soon, but my heart and mind aren’t quite with it, yet.

  11. You’re a brave man, Mark. I know few things are tougher going through than a divorce. I’m glad you’re getting back on your feet. Writing can be a great source of strength, at least it is for me. A review of The Legend of Hell House? Sounds good, I will hold you to that! :)

  12. Thanks for the encouragement, Mariana. I think I’ll have my review of The Legend of Hell House up sometime this weekend.

  13. Max Showalter acted under at least a couple of names. one other being casey adams. he was the original ward cleaver in the leave it to beaver pilot it’s a small world. much later he was molly ringwald’s grandfather in 16 candles. i have never seen the film man made monster. is that lon junior film similar to this one?


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