The Man Who Could Cheat Death is an all but forgotten Hammer film from 1959. Terence Fisher’s horror may not be Hammer at its best but it does have enough intriguing elements (and Christopher Lee) to make it watchable. Anton
Diffring is Georges Bonnet, a surgeon and sculptor with a secret (he’s 104 years old) and he keeps his youthful appearance by murdering people and stealing their parathyroid glands.
The major flaw with The Man Who Could Cheat Death is that there’s very little action until the last act. Fisher’s film opens with a murder but there’s a lull in proceedings as Diffring’s Bonnet attempts to get a surgeon to carry out his vital operation. There’s little tension, even when a police inspector (Francis de Wolff) is on his trail.
Based on the Barré Lyndon play The Man In Half Moon Street, this Hammer film’s biggest legacy may be its influence on other works. There are a few plot points (the use of organs through murder to sustain life) which are reminiscent of The-X Files episodes Squeeze and Toombs, while’80s cult classic Highlander also has echoes of Fisher’s film. The Man Who Could Cheat Death has not been credited with this though, maybe because so few people have seen it.
Anton Diffring makes for a decent enough lead but it’s interesting to think what first choice Peter Cushing would have made of the material. There’s an aloofness to Diffring’s Bonnet that makes him difficult to root for and it’s likely Cushing could have added some additional charm to make him more likeable. Christopher Lee is solid in a supporting role but his role, like much of Jimmy Sangster’s script, feels under-developed.
Handsomely shot by cinematographer Jack Asher, The Man Who Could Cheat Death looks the part but its missing the charm that makes so many other Hammer films worth revisiting.