Dec 4 2009

Article V – In Which I Don’t Use the Obvious Hanging Joke

James Student Film The Noose

James' Student Film "The Noose"

My dear, dear readers.  This week was a first for me.  I have to tell you…it was the first week I watched a movie specifically for this column.  I sacrificed so much…just for you.  I hope you appreciate it you ungrateful little brats.  27 hours of labor: for what?  NOTHING.  You don’t even call anymore.

Continuing my one-week theme of reviewing films starring Boris Karloff (also ending this week, incidentally) I picked the 1940 film Before I Hang.  If you’re wondering why I chose this particular movie for my first film of the forties – look no further: it was random.  That’s right, I closed my eyes and pointed at the huge list of sci-fi films I had laboriously made and left it up to Fate.

Now, not knowing quite what  to expect, as I had comfortably chosen films I’d seen before for my prior columns, I decided I might need someone to sit in with me for this one and who better than my editor?  SAY HI TO ANNA EVERYONE.

So I put in the DVD and sit down with my turkey burgers and my computer and prepared myself for the ride of my life.  Did I receive such a ride?  I suppose you should skip to page 47 if you want to know the answers.  Choose your own adventure bitches.

The movie starts out innocently enough with Dr. John Garth being sentenced to death for a mercy killing.  Now, the entire plot is explained by Garth (Karloff) in the first scene of the movie: He is a scientist who has dedicated his life to reversing/stopping the effects of aging.  A noble cause yes?  WRONG.  Science does not allow good things to happen.

Garth is sentenced to death and sent to prison, where an abnormally happy and lenient warden (indeed, perhaps the only not cruel warden in all of film history) lets him continue his work for the next three weeks until his hanging.  One thing leads to another, and he decides to use his own body to test his new anti-aging serum before he is hanged, as there could be adverse side effects of the drug.

Naturally, he is granted a last minute pardon by the governor…only he’s already taken the serum, which he has also mixed with the blood of a convicted murderer who had been killed earlier.  Sooo, he begins to reverse his aging.  But, it also turns him into a homicidal maniac who strangles people.

Most people with half a brain can figure out where it goes from here – downhill.  He cannot control his urges and is forced to kill his oldest friends.  Eventually, he realizes that he must be stopped…no matter the cost. (This sounds really cool if you imagine it being said in Optimus Prime’s voice and then Stan Bush’s The Touch beginning to play right after)  Damn Transformers flashbacks.

Now.  The film was 62 minutes long, so there really isn’t much to talk about.  There are no flashy set pieces, no amazing special effects.  Actually no special effects of any kind.  But it is shot in such a way that everything looks sinister all the time.  Even when Karloff is playing the good doctor, he looks evil.

Some weirdo I took a picture of outside my house

Some weirdo I took a picture of outside my house

Yes, friends, this movie, given a different premise and some awesomely bad voiceover, might even make a good noir flick.  There’s murder, intrigue, STAIRS.  But alas, you can tell from the test tubes that it’s clearly meant to be a science fiction film.

Now, about the science.  The premise takes the logical idea that cells are meant to replicate themselves and make it so that they don’t eventually break down.  Now, I’m no scientist, but I read somewhere that every seven years, you have a completely new body.  All your skin and organ cells have shed and replaced, and you have a completely new body.  Ummm, so where does age come in?

This is one of those things where if you don’t want to be enlightened by my words and research, you should just skip ahead to the next, possibly funnier, part of the “review.”

Aging goes against all natural theories.  For Darwinists: what is the advantage of getting old?  A couple theories exist – namely that either there is a predetermined life count in our organs and systems, and that at some point, we just run out of material to keep us alive.  Another theory says that there is accumulated damage that occurs over our natural lifespans, and eventually, like a machine (ugh how abhorrent I have to resort to that comparison) we just break down from too much use.

The science in this film is generally sound, and deals with so-called “toxins” that build up as a byproduct from living, thus eventually killing us.  Now as for the mixing of a murderer’s blood with his serum and his own metabolism – that’s up to you buddy.  I guess murder is passed along kind of like AIDS – through blood (and semen).

Science tools: gloves, syringe, screepy eyes, murderous intent

Science tools: gloves, syringe, creepy eyes, murderous intent

Enough science – on to my own feelings on the film.  I had a good time watching it – a lot of the acting was downright ridiculous.  Now, if there is one reason to watch it – it was Karloff.  Even with such a crappy part, his physical presence and his creepy, creepy, vacant eyes just scream “I’m a science-fuelled murderer waiting to happen!”  And it’s awesome.  You root for him every single time he gets that nervous twitch and look in his eyes.  You feel a flash of heat when he wraps his handkerchief around the neck of his unsuspecting (stupid?) victim.  You feel the blood rush to your head and a murderous rage take hold and all YOU WANT IS FOR HIM TO….uh.  Yeah, this was definitely the best performance I had seen in a film all day.

Overall, unless you wanna see some really cool Karloff, (or you’re on an IMPOSSIBLE quest to watch every single science fiction movie) go ahead and skip this one.  It had no cultural impact other than the expected numerous attempts to duplicate his mad science.

It’s been brought to my attention that I need some sort of ranking system.  I’m definitely not clever enough to come up with something cool like that – do you really want me to have my 1-10 scale be “SCIENCE! I lit a match”(1) to “OMFG WE CLONED DINOSAURS AND THEY’VE LEARNED HOW TO FLY JETS” (10)?

Hm, yes, I see your point.

However – I have thought long and hard and decided to add a new little tidbit to the end of every review – a scorecard that tallies up the poor people who fell prey to science.



A moment of silence, please for those strangled to death by Boris Karloff in his quest for eternal youth.

I only had to strangle 3 people to get this article written.  EAT IT KARLOFF.

3 Responses to “Article V – In Which I Don’t Use the Obvious Hanging Joke”

  • deeds Says:


  • Rosser Garrison Says:

    The only movie with “…perhaps the only not cruel warden in all of film history…”???? NEIN, my friends! Check out “Call Northside 777” which is a film noir (and based on a true story!)–somewhat dated (I personally really like the film with Jimmy Stewart, but when I showed it one of my friends he gave it the ol’ thumbs down….). Anyway…back to my narrative…there is a sympathetic warden in THAT film…So HA! OK, your science is a little wrong (this coming from your padre…) but, hey! It sounds good anyway! This, too, is the first movie you have reviewed that I have not seen. After reading your review….well…think I’ll save a dollar from Netflicks and will skip it. That’s about is from here. Oh, yes….HI ANNA (your editor).

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