Indestructible Man (1956)

Rating; C-

Dir: Jack Pollexfen
Star: Max Showalter, Lon Chaney Jr., Marian Carr, Ross Elliott 

This is a bit of an odd beast. I can’t even bring myself to classify it as science-fiction, despite the obvious nod to the Frankenstein myth. That’s merely the starting point, after which it’s much more a noir thriller. Charles “The Butcher” Benton (Chaney) is on Death Row for his role in a robbery which netted $600,000. It’s loot whose location only he knows, and intends to take to his grave, after his accomplices turned state’s evidence against him to save their own skins. After execution, his corpse is sold to a scientist, who pumps several hundred thousand Volts through it. This is supposedly going to find a cure for cancer or something. Not quite sure how.

Anyway, this brings Benton back to life, and as the title suggests, renders him bulletproof, albeit mute. He kills the scientist and makes a beeline back to Los Angeles to take revenge on those who betrayed him. Also involved is his moll, burlesque dancer Eva Martin (Carr) and detective Lt. Dick Chasen (Showalter). He thinks Eva knows the location of the robbery proceeds, but also asks her out to dinner. Even though it’s only a drive-through hamburger, I’m sure fraternising with a material witness like this would have been frowned on, even in the fifties. After several murders committed by a dead man, the last gang member (Elliott) squeals for his own protection, telling authorities Benton is hiding in the sewers. Cue the traditional mob – albeit armed with flamethrowers and a bazooka, rather than pitchforks. 

This works best as a snapshot of LA life in the fifties, with some fascinating footage shot on the streets. A sequence takes part around the famous Angels Flight funicular downtown, and one of The Butcher’s victim lives in the Bradbury Building. Twenty-five years later, that same apartment block would be used as the location of J.F. Sebastian’s apartment, and for the rooftop showdown between Deckard and Batty. This time-capsule element is more enjoyable than most of what the story has to offer. Chaney, in particular, is largely wasted. Outside of one scene, he’s not allowed to speak; it’s a shame, because that scene where he does, is pretty good. The director seems to think frequent close-ups of Benton’s sweating face make up for his lack of dialogue. [Narrator: it doesn’t]

Probably the most interesting character is Eva, who manages to be refreshingly free of the stereotypes you’d expect from a cinematic stripper in the fifties. She’s unashamed by her job, and the scene where she and Dick enjoy that drive-through dinner is one of the few where it feels like you’re watching real people, not off-cuts from a dime detective novel. Suspending disbelief that Benton is immune to bullets is one thing; that he can take a bazooka shell and keep right on ticking is a stretch. Naturally, we find that the title is not actually true either. Spoiler: he is, in fact, destructible. Sheesh. If you can’t trust a B-movie title, who can you trust?