Hearts and Souls
One of multiple mad scientist flicks from Columbia’s b-roster, Man They Could Not Hang exists for its exploitative violence. Karloff spends the final act trapping and killing people as expected, but does so with unique thematic reason.
Presented as a rogue anti-hero out to save lives, Karloff’s Henryk Savaard develops an artificial heart – some 30 years before such a thing became a reality. With his immense dead stare, Savaard admonishes a jury for sentencing him to hang, comparing it to the Salem Witch Trials; he’s absolutely right.
Universal horror films looked down on science. It’s a common theme linking Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, and others – progress inevitably backfires. Even Savaard muses as such before the finale, noting medicines make addicts and flight allows war. A mere six years before the atomic bomb created ghastly history, that speech has staying power.
Unfortunately, the science isn’t wrong so much as the creator, lashing out at a society choosing ignorance. Savaard did kill someone, if only because his experiment was stopped by police, leading to a brief if heated jury deliberation worthy of its own movie. Man They Could Not Hang barely breaks the hour mark though and there’s little time for legal philosophizing.
It can’t be said for most of Columbia’s bottom run thrillers, but Man They Could Not Hang deserves more room to breathe as it presents a tense, essential argument regarding ethical experimentation. The final act though descends to generic old dark house cliches, with Savaard imprisoning those who convicted him while condemning them to die at his hand (sort of). That’s hardly tense or chilling as anticipated with few exceptions, closing on a flat, predictable note featuring characters with little to no depth for the audience to latch onto.
Before that however, it’s a fascinating futurist genre effort with an innate ability to foresee the human tragedy to come.
An overly digital appearance doesn’t come from DNR or other transfer tools, but a lower resolution source. Fine lines reveal aliasing in small spots, enough to be noticed for those on larger screens. This is also true of the encoding, failing spectacularly to preserve the natural grain structure. Even stranger, the frame’s right side is oddly sharper than the left, with a visible separation in grain quality dependent on the side.
The print itself begs for a careful clean-up pass, showing dirt, debris, and scratches. Thankfully, Man They Could Not Hang stays stable and doesn’t wobble.
Satisfying in both contrast and black levels, Mill Creek’s presentation manages to dig deep into shadows and the contrast skews a slight gray, but it’s manageable. There’s enough dimensionality to earn a pass, even if gray scale lacks nuance.
Crisply rendered DTS-HD mono preserves this early sound audio clearly. Dialog echoes across the stage unobtrusively. The score also hits a stable, unexpected peak for something this aged.
C. Courtney Joyner joins Heath Holland on a commentary. There’s also a documentary exploring horror films from the ’30s and ’40s.
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The Man They Could Not Hang
Man They Could Not Hang deserves more room to breathe
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 32 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: