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.
Poor 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.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! out of 5.