(director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: Ewart Adamson/Peter Milne/Robert Andrews/Lillie Hayward; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Thomas Pratt; music: Bernhard Kaun; cast: Marguerite Churchill (Nancy), Boris Karloff (John Ellman), Ricardo Cortez (Nolan), Warren Hull (Jimmy), Robert Strange (Merritt), Joseph King (Judge Shaw), Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Evan Beaumont ), Barton MacLane (Loder), Joseph Sawyer (‘Trigger’ Smith), Paul Harvey (Blackstone), Henry O’Neill (District Attorney Werner), Eddie Acuff (Betcha); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis F. Edelman; Warner Brothers; 1936)

“Creaky but entertaining supernatural thriller about bringing back the dead.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Michael Curtiz (“The Mad Genius”/”The Cabin in the Cotton”/”Captain Blood”) helms this creaky but entertaining supernatural thriller about bringing back the dead. It’s written by Ewart Adamson, Peter Milne, Robert Andrews and Lillie Hayward. The writing team provide a weak story that’s filled with plot holes, but Boris Karloff makes for a good ‘walking dead’ personality to give this B-film some life.

The misunderstood gentle pianist John Ellman (Boris Karloff) is an ex-convict just released from prison for accidentally killing his wife. Unable to get work, a group of racketeers in powerful business positions are headed by the oily shyster lawyer Nolan (Ricardo Cortez). The baddies plan to use Ellman in order to divert suspicion on themselves to exact revenge on the courageous Judge Shaw (Joseph King), who failed to wilt before their threats and sent one of theirs to the slammer. The mob hire a hit man named Trigger (Joseph Sawyer) to kill the judge and they frame Ellman as the killer. Since Judge Shaw sent Ellman to prison, the DA (Henry O’Neill) believes he had a revenge motive and charges him with the crime. When Nolan defends Ellman, the innocent meek man keeps insisting there were two eyewitnesses who could clear him. But the weasel-like medical student witnesses, a lovebird couple (Marguerite Churchill & Warren Hull), fail to come forward in time, as the Governor’s pardon is just a moment too late before he goes to the electric chair. Ellman takes the deadman’s walk while a guard plays the cello. The couple’s boss, a mad scientist researcher, Dr. Evan Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn), revives Ellman with a mechanical heart as a gesture of good will and for his own scientific reasons. Ellman is brought back from the dead as an amnesiac, whose impulses now become supernatural and without knowing why he identifies the 5 villains (Robert Strange, Barton MacLane, Paul Harvey, Nolan & Trigger) who framed him. Soon one after another dies mysteriously, as Ellman stares them down.

The film is part crime drama and part horror tale. Curtiz filmed it like a film noir with dark shadowy scenes. Of note, the medical equipment used in Ellman’s resurrection was in actuality called the Lindbergh Heart. It functioned as a mechanical circulating system that the aviator pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh developed with the assistance of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Alexis Carrel and several researchers.

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