Boris Karloff, Bruce Bennett, and Evelyn Keyes in Before I Hang (1940)


(director: Nick Grinde; screenwriters: Robert Hardy Andrews/Karl Brown; cinematographer: Ben Kline; editor: Charles Nelson; music: Morris W. Stoloff; cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. John Garth), Evelyn Keyes (Martha Garth), Bruce Bennett (Dr. Paul Ames), Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Ralph Howard), Ben Taggart (Warden Thompson), Pedro de Cordoba (Victor Sondini), Wright Kramer (George Wharton), Don Beddoe (Captain McGraw), Frank Richards (Otto Kron), Robert Fiske (District Attorney); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wallace MacDonald; Columbia Pictures; 1940)

“A minor Boris Karloff film, recommended for those who must have all his films in their collection.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A minor Boris Karloff film, recommended for those who must have all his films in their collection, who marvel at how the classy actor can inject class and credibility into such a silly B-film and those who might sympathize with the subplot theme that mercy killings by doctors are just even though not approved by law. Karloff plays Dr. John Garth, a kindly research scientist/doctor who is on the brink of discovering a serum to alter aging. He inoculates one of his patients, but the serum is still not ready to work wonders. Feeling compassion for his suffering patient, Garth performs a mercy killing and is sentenced to hang within a month. The condemned scientist is allowed to work in the lab with the prison doctor, Dr. Howard ( Edward Van Sloan), and he races against the clock to complete the serum experiment before he’s hanged. When a convicted murderer is hanged on the same day he’s to be, Garth injects himself with a new serum made from the three-time murderer’s blood. At the last second, his sweet daughter Martha (Evelyn Keyes) gets him a reprieve from the governor and his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. Evidently, the serum works as Garth looks younger and feels better (no more glasses and a weak heart is cured). Howard asks for the serum, but it has a fatal side effect–it causes Garth to go bonkers and become driven to murder when he tries to inoculate the serum in others. The kindly Garth turns uncharacteristically violent (a case of Jekyll and Hyde) and in a cold-blooded manner strangles Howard and breaks the neck of prisoner orderly Otto Kron (Frank Richards), but Garth blacks out and can’t remember killing them. The warden (Ben Taggart) mistakenly thinks Garth was a hero who tried to stop Otto from murdering Dr. Howard, and it leads to his full pardon. At home, Garth ends up killing a few of his elderly friends in a homicidal rage after offering them humanitarian aid. Realizing his time is up, Garth returns to prison to be executed. The lesson learned is that it’s not wise to use the blood of a convicted murderer in your self-induced experiments. Any horror film buff who has seen a number of these Mad Doctor films would confirm that.