"Butcher" Benton goes to his death in the state prison, cursing the three men who double-crossed him following an armored-car hold-up; "Squeamy" Ellis, Joe Marcelli and Paul Lowe, his attorney and leader of the gang. He vows to return and kill them and dies without revealing the location of the stolen money. Detective Chasen is determined to keep working on the case until the stolen loot is recovered. Benton's body is taken to Professor Bradshaw and his assistant for experimentation, and they manage to restore him to life, making him practically indestructible in the process. He takes off after the three men, getting rid of everybody who stands in his way. He is impervious to police bullets. He kills Ellis and Marcelli, while Lowe seeks police protection. Benton takes to the sewers to recover the hidden loot and the police are powerless to stop him.
Directed by: Jack Pollexfen
. Starring: Lon Chaney Jr.
, Max Showalter
, Marian Carr
, Ross Elliott
, Stuart Randall
, Ken Terrell
, Marjorie Stapp
, Robert Shayne
, Peggy Maley
, Robert Foulk
, Reita Green
, Roy Engel
, Madge Cleveland
. Music by: Albert Glasser
This is a film that, when I bring it up in film discussions, I always precede my remarks by noting that I cannot defend this film, I can only love it. And I'll freely admit that a lot of my affection is due to my having seen it repeatedly on television during my formative years. When you examine this little Grade C horror-noir by the objective criteria usually employed during the criticism of a film, it fails more often than not. However, it has its pluses and it does accomplish something that not even all "great" films can do; it entertains.
On the negative side of the ledger is the minuscule budget. Pollexfen handles this in an almost Edgar Ulmer-ish sort of way, reducing the sets to minimalist representations that add to the fever-dream quality. He is saddled with the abysmal presence of Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter), who gives what is easily the single worst performance in the history of monster movies (the recent wretched turn by Jack Black in "King Kong - The Unnecessary Remake" notwithstanding). His script's dialog contains some of the most atrocious groaners this side of an Edward Wood movie, but sadly they have none of Wood's mad verve. And there are gaping holes in the plot to match the gaping holes in the science, the logic and the motivations behind the behavior of some of the characters.
And, as others have mentioned, that final scene in the (non-existent) drive-in burger joint - Good Lord, you can't believe your own ears. Times truly were different back then but not that different! One chauvinist platter, please, with a side of smarm.
I suppose that adds up to an insurmountable stack of bad points for most viewers and I can hardly blame them. But the magic of this movie is that it carries all that baggage and still gives the viewer a good time. The sleazy, low-rent ambiance of mid-50's L.A. is a perfect setting for the Americanization of the Frankenstein legend and (as at least one other reviewer pointed out) that's exactly what we have here: Mad scientist reanimates dead criminal who proceeds to go on a rampage. And for a nine-year-old who worshiped at the shrines of Famous Monsters magazine and low-budget L.A. cop shows like "Dragnet" and "Code 3", this movie was damn near ultimate, especially when you got to stay up late to catch it on the Saturday night Creature Feature.
Lon Chaney Jr. is clearly past his peak and he only has a few lines at the beginning, before the experiment that restores his life robs him of his vocal cords, but he manages to tap into the pain and rage that made his Lawrence Talbot so tragic a figure. His gift for pantomime may not equal his father's but he still does a great job of conveying the revenge-obsessed Butcher Benton's relentless forward motion and his utter disregard for anything or anyone that stands between him and his goals. The shots of Chaney, hunched over with hands thrust deep into the pockets of his workman's jacket, as he stalks the sewers beneath L.A. are forever etched in my cinema-memory, iconic images as powerful as any I retain from those formative years.
I saw this movie before I saw "Them!" or "He Walked By Night" or "White Heat" so the images Pollexfen cribbed were new to me and very powerful. The tingling paranoia of a huge organized search for one man; the ominous knowledge that a killing creature traveled below the streets, effortlessly eluding that city-wide manhunt; the machinery of the law in all its implacable strength; the grim horror of Chaney finally finding his money only to be interrupted by guns and flamethrowers; and the spectacle of the final suicidal flame-out - all these images, all that atmosphere, are as potent for me now as they were then.
Add to that the incredible busyness of the street scenes, as full of visual eye-candy as the indoor sets are bereft of it - the throbbing beat of the city that you feel outside the burlesque theater or during the sequence on Angel's Flight; the exhilaration of Chaney's attacks on his hapless former pals; the intricate maze of the power substation - all rooting the hallucinogenic tale in the kind of gritty reality that echoes the great hardboiled crime capers of the 40's. And, of course, the Bradbury Building - I'm just a sucker for that joint. Any movie smart enough to include that intricate interior is automatically lifted two or three notches in my estimation.
And then there were some great character turns - Inspector Henderson as a mad scientist assisted by Captain Binghamton (how my young mind reeled), Lassie sheriff Robert Foulk as the cynical, hardboiled bartender, Marian Carr as the good stripper and Peggy Maley as her greedy second, Ross Elliot as Benton's sleazy lawyer and Ken Terrell and Marvin Ellis as the accomplices (every 50's crime movie should have a guy named Squeamy in it), and the brief appearance of Eddie Marr as the huckstering Carney, who darn near made a career out of playing barkers in films like "The Hucksters" and "Roustabout" and TV shows like "Circus Boy" - all great stuff that just barely manages to make Adams and his wooden cop compadres bearable.
Review by jadortmunder from the Internet Movie Database.