Directed by Nick Grinde (The Man with Nine LivesBefore I Hang) and written by Kurt Brown (A McKeesport native who was the assistant to D.W. Griffith’s cameraman G.W. Bitzer before becoming a cinematographer; he was the son of comedian and character actor William H. Brown and his mother was Lucille was an actress), The Man They Could Not Hang stars Boris Karloff as Dr. Henryk Savaard, a somewhat mad scientist who has invented a procedure for bringing the dead back to life.

The film begins with him being arrested and about to be executed for murdering a young medical student who volunteered to be killed as part of the testing phase of this procedure. On death row, his assistant Lang (Byron Foulger) signs papers to take possession of the doctor’s body and then he is lynched.

That’s just the start of the movie.

Lang surgically repairs Savaard’s neck and then, like a 1930s version of Dr. Phibes*, he ensures that six of the jurors that convicted him all die by hangings that appear to be suicidal. Only Scoop Foley (Rbert Wilcox) believes that the doctor is still alive and killing everyone who did him wrong. By the point that jurors are being killed every quarter hour, people start to take him seriously.

Virginia Pound — billed here as Lorna Gray — is Savaard’s daughter. She played plenty of comic roles — opposite Buster Keaton in Pest from the West and the Three Stooges in You Nazty Spy!Oily to Bed, Oily to RiseThree Sappy People and Rockin’ thru the Rockies — as well as receiving co-billing in several Republic movies and serials. I love how at the end she holds off all of these important doctors and basically sacrifices herself twice.

After this film, The Man with Nine Lives, Before I Hang and The Devil Commands, Karloff had played basically the same role four times. So when he did a fifth takeoff on the same idea, The Boogie Man Will Get You, it was treated as a parody of this storyline.

Also: Open heart surgery is science fiction in this film.

*One of the victims is killed by picking a phone up and a needle going in their ear to kill them. That’s a total Phibes kill.

Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault set also includes The Black Room, Before I Hang, The Man With Nine Lives, The Boogie Man Will Get You, The Devil Commands, The Return of the Vampire and Five. Each movie has a commentary track — The Man They Could Not Hang has C. Courtney Joyner and Heath Holland — and there’s also a documentary, Madness and Mayhem: Horror in the 30s and 40s. You can get it from Deep Discount.

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