Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: Life Returns (1935)

Eugene Frenke wrote and directed this film, and his Hollywood career is pretty strange. Born in Russia, he’d direct three more films (Girl in the CaseTwo Who Dared and Miss Robin Crusoe), with eighteen years between his last two movies. He also produced Lady in the Iron MaskThe Barbarian and the Geisha and more films, as well as acting as a production assistant on 1971’s Johnny Got His Gun.

Following a preview screening of the film, Universal pulled the film from general release and said that it was a “freak picture, not suitable for the regular Universal program.” In 1937, Frenke won a lawsuit and got his film back, re-releasing it through Scienart Pictures a year later.

On May 22, 1934 at the University of Southern California, scientist Robert E. Cornish — who appears in the film playing himself — surgically and chemically restored life to a dead dog. Frenke filmed this operation and included it in this film, if you can believe that!

Cornish even provided a note that is in the credits: “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The actual experiment of bringing the dead back to life, which is part of the motion picture “Life Returns” was performed by myself and staff on May 22, 1934 at 11:45 P.M. in Berkeley, California. This part of the picture was originally taken to retain a permanent scientific record of our experiment. Everything shown is absolutely real. The animal was unquestionably and actually dead, and was brought back to life. May I offer my thanks to my assistants, Mario Margutti, William Black, Ralph Celmer and Roderic Kneder, who are shown carrying out their respective parts. Respectfully submitted, Dr. Robert E. Cornish.”

Frenke was married to the Russian star Anna Sten, who Samuel Goldwyn hyped as “The Passionate Peasant” and tried to transform into a big star across the movies NanaWe Live Again and The Wedding Night. Her failure was so big that Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” refers to her: “When Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / anything goes.”

After this, the auteur wanted to make another film where a drowning man was brought back to life. After being sued by Frenke, one wonders why he’d come back to Universal. But he sure did and they turned him down.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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