"I am legally dead. Your business is with the living."

Dr. Henryk Savaard is researching cryonics and artificial hearts. His aim is to create a procedure for controlled death. The purpose is to aid surgeons by giving them more time to work on patients during surgery. He believes that with his procedure he can basically bring the dead back to life. He is working on an experiment with a student volunteer. The volunteer’s girlfriend, and Savaard’s nurse, believes that Dr. Savaard will not be able to bring her boyfriend back. She flees to the authorities.

The police show up and stop Savaard from continuing. He begs them to let him complete his experiment and bring the young man back to life. They refuse and take him away in hand cuffs. Savaard is put on trial for murder and found guilty. The judge sentences him to hang. His final words in court are to vow revenge on the ones who put him to death, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury. Before he is hung Savaard’s assistant Lang shows up to have papers signed for Savaard’s body to be donated to science for medical research.

In the weeks following Savaard’s death several members of the jury are found dead. The assumed cause is suicide. No one sees the pattern until reporter “Scoop” Foley of the Tribune notices that some of the names of the suicides sound familiar from when he covered the trial. Then he starts calling the rest of the people from the trial and finds out that the judge called each of them to meet him at the Savaard house. Savaard’s daughter has no idea why the judge would do that. The reporter goes to the house and finds everyone assembled. In total nine people were given invitations. Once the assembled are in the parlor Savaard appears.

Savaard has everyone sit down to dinner in front of their assigned places. A card in front of each person tells them in what order they are to die. The judge goes to leave and is electrocuted. In the panic that ensues Savaard disappears and then his fun begins.

“The Man They Could Not Hang” was released in 1939 and stars Boris Karloff and was directed by Nick Grinde. It’s only about 64 minutes long but a lot goes on. Karloff is, of course, one of my favorites and so is this movie.

There is some hubris on the side of Dr. Savaard. And not just a little madness. Of course being killed and rising from the dead will do that to a person. Though science fiction at the time, more and more strides are being made in the realm of medical science and although some of the ideas are a little dated the real science is not. Artificial hearts are now used to bridge the gap between when an old heart fails and a donor heart can be found. Done as science fiction it is now more science fact.

The plot is well worn. A bunch of people trapped in a house and being killed off one by one by someone, whether known or not, meting out justice as he sees it. It's your basic 'Old Dark House' theme. Similar to "And Then There Were None" 1945 or "The 9th Guest" 1934 but with variations. As long as it's done right I'm OK with that and I was pleased with Karloff and how this movie was presented. It had just enough differences that it wasn't readily apparent. But then I do love an Old Dark House movie.