Hang the Hangman

Typecast into mad doctor or scientist roles for most his stint with Columbia, Boris Karloff still found a way to make his characters memorable. In Before I Hang, he plays the gentlest doctor, a precursor to the real world’s Jack Kevorkian, who ends a suffering patient’s life. Karloff seems almost too kindly, but that purposeful.

Before I Hang admonishes the court system for condemning this man

With only an hour to play with, Before I Hang needs to establish John Garth (Karloff) as a personable man, persecuted by the courts, but accepting his death sentence. That sets up a unique tic later when, after injecting himself with a serum combined with a hardened murderer’s blood, he begins to strangle people, even friends. Where Jason Vorhees made spears and knives into an icon, Garth needs only to twist a mere handkerchief as his mind drifts toward the kill.

That’s almost assuredly a Karloff touch, including the need to grab his neck to signal his loss of sanity. A worried look on his face keeps the man empathetic, trying to do right by creating an anti-aging, cell restoring medicine, but caught in an unexpected mishap. It’s bogus of course, as if cells dictate behavior, but scientific authenticity isn’t the centerpiece of these films – the morals often are.

Caught between progress and terror, Before I Hang admonishes the court system for condemning this man for an unequivocal mercy killing. By making Garth so understanding, the sympathy is instantaneous. Derivative or not of Karloff’s other cheaper thrillers, the script isn’t without intelligence, whittling down this dramatic, stage-like movie to only the essentials.


A decent master and film stock help this presentation. Natural grain remains intact, with only the occasional speck or scratch marring the screen. Before I Hang stays stable too, the gate weave under control, if still present.

What hurts is Mill Creek’s compression, turning noisy and sloppy, ruining the filmic appearance. While not the most severe case, artifacts inhibit definition and erode what looks like a superb, high-resolution film scan. It’s a shame Before I Hang took such a turn for its Blu-ray debut.

Gray scale shows intermittent banding, however minor. Mostly, gradients smoothly resolve, letting the depth thrive. Black levels hit solid, firm limits while contrast glistens.


Suitable DTS-HD mono projects the stock score and dialog well enough. Clarity is better than the early ’40s origins may indicate, even with a natural coarseness that’s inevitable. No popping or skipping harms the result.



Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Before I Hang
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Karloff is great as always in the brief Columbia cheapie Before I Hang.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 27 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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