First released in 1956, Indestructible Man is a low-budget B-movie that, as a result of being in the public domain, has been released on DVD by several different companies and seems to be included in just about every other compilation box set released by the folks at Mill Creek. Perhaps because it stars Lon Chaney, Jr., it also seems to turn up on TCM fairly regularly. That’s how I first saw it.
Whenever anyone mentions the film Indestructible Man to me, I always think about … well, actually no one ever mentions Indestructible Man to me. But if they did, I would probably always remember one scene in particular. It comes towards the end of the film. Detective Dick Chasen (Max Showalter) has managed to solve the mystery of the Indestructible Man. He celebrates by going out with his new girlfriend, a burlesque dancer played by Marian Carr. Sitting there in the car, illuminated by the romantic glow of the moon, Detective Chasen informs her that he’s gotten her fired from her job because she’s going to be way too busy being his wife to have a career. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t say no!” his girlfriend responds.
Don’t believe me? Watch for yourself. From Indestructible Man, here’s one of the most sexist scenes in film history…
Up until that ending, Indestructible Man tells the story of Charles “Butcher” Benson (Lon Chaney, Jr). As you might guess from his nickname, Butcher isn’t a nice guy. In fact, he’s a career criminal who is sitting on death row in California. He’s been double-crossed by his criminal partners (who include both a lawyer and a guy named Squeamy, so you know they’re bad) and, from his prison cell, he swears that he will have his revenge.
And then he’s promptly executed.
However, his body is donated to science. Scientist Robert Shaye is investigating whether or not massive electrical shock can be utilized to cure cancer. When he and his assistant (Joe Flynn) shock the Butcher’s corpse, the Butcher comes back to life and starts to wander around the laboratory. Shaye attempts to give him a shot but the hypodermic needle snaps when pressed against the Butcher’s skin. The Butcher proceeds to strangle both the scientist and his assistant…
What’s going on? Well, fortunately, this film is narrated by Detective Dick Chasen (and yes, that is the character’s name and that’s all I’m going to say about it). Dick Chasen explains to us that 1) the electrical shock fried Butcher’s vocal chords and rendered him mute and that 2) the shock caused Butcher’s cells to multiply at such a rate that he is now …. INDESTRUCTIBLE!
Anyway, Butcher proceeds to spend the rest of the movie tracking down and murdering his former criminal associates. Even before you reach the most sexist ending in the history of American cinema, it’s all rather silly. It’s also rather slow. The film lasts 70 minutes and I would say that 20 of those minutes consist of pure padding.
However, as often happened with B-movies, the low budget occasionally works to the film’s advantage. The flat black-and-white and the stark sets may have been an unintentional consequence of economic reality but, at the same time, they give the film a much needed edge.
Much as the low budget accidentally worked to the film’s advantage, so to did the personal demons of Lon Chaney, Jr. contribute to making him into a surprisingly effective and disturbingly believable killer. Though he’s best remembered for playing the handsome and soulful Larry Talbot in the original Wolf Man, by the time Lon Chaney, Jr. made Indestructible Man, years of drinking, smoking, and self-destructive behavior had caught up with the former matinée idol. Chaney’s ravaged face, marked by deep lines and sporting a permanently grim expression, makes him perfect for this role. The highest praise that I can pay to Chaney’s performance is that you look at him and you truly believe that his character would be nicknamed Butcher.
As I stated at the start of this review, Indestructible Man is in the public domain and it’s fairly easy to track down. For that matter, you can always watch it below.
And just remember … you’re not supposed to say no to a detective…