Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vamp or Not? The Man who could Cheat Death

I was looking through a vampire filmography I have and noticed a 1945 movie called “The Man in Half Moon Street”. Now, I have never seen the film so tried to track it down… and failed (at least to date of this article). What I did discover, however, was that the film had been remade in 1959 by Hammer Studios.

Now, those who know me will know that the thought of discovering a little know Hammer vampire movie would be like a host of birthday presents rolled into one for me. The fact that this was directed by Terence Fisher and written by Jimmy Sangster was just icing on the cake, so’s to speak. However, the fact that this is a ‘Vamp or Not?’ will also indicate that things are not so clear cut.

The film begins with a man leaving a building, in Paris circa 1890, He is grabbed by a shadowy figure – very quickly revealed to be Dr Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring). Surgical implements are revealed. Later Dr Pierre Gerard (Christopher Lee) and Janine Dubois (Hazel Court) attend the unveiling of a statue by Bonnet. The model, Margo (Delphi Lawrence), is clearly in love with Bonnet. As the film progresses we discover that Pierre loves Janine, who was in love with Bonnet in Italy. Bonnet is awaiting someone, but he was not on the expected train.

Bonnet reveals his statue but his watch is wrong and it is twenty minutes later than he thought. He quickly packs his guests off and heads to a safe and in his laboratory. However, Margo has not left – she confronts him, wanting to know if they are to be together and convinced he is in love with Janine (which he is). He tells her to leave but suddenly his eyes go all funny and crinkly round them too – his skin takes on a gold/green tinge.

He grabs Margo and covers her screaming mouth. She falls with, what look like, burn marks to her arm and mouth. It appears she is dead though we discover later that she is not. Bonnet takes a drink of some smoking potion and returns to normal… Ah hah, someone who drinks potions (presumably made with body parts) to stay young, a bit weird about the acidy fingers but… no, not quite – however that is how my thought processes ran.

Bonnet’s guest arrives and it is a Dr Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé) from Vienna. It is clear that young Dr Bonnet and old Dr Weiss are old friends. Weiss is three weeks late and this is due to the fact that the 89 year old has had a stroke. This has left his right (scalpel holding) hand useless and herein lies the rub. You see, the potion is a side issue. Bonnet is 104 years old and it is surgery that has kept him alive.

Weiss was a young student doctor when they met but research took them to replace a gland (using Bonnet as a guinea pig) to try and create immortality. He has not only stayed young but never gets disease, however the gland needs replacing every ten years. The potion, made by means unknown but taking two years to produce each batch, is only used at the end of the ten year cycle and staves off death until the operation can be performed. It is effective for periods of 6 hours and for around four weeks only.

The trouble is, when he is on the potion, as it were, it makes him slightly unstable… Hence the suspicions of both Weiss and the police Inspector LeGris (Francis De Wolff) are aroused as a model has vanished every ten years for forty years (of course that fact only serves to confuse the inspector, as they assume Bonnet to be 35). This seemed a little overkill, plot wise, as the attack on Margo seemed to be accidental more than anything, but it was a plot contrivance relied upon to carry the story forward.

So what about Margo's burns? Not burns at all, it would appear. When Bonnet approaches death (as it were) he rapidly ages and contracts all the diseases he never had. The burns would then seem – it is implied but not stated – to be some sort of diseased plague mark. Margo, herself, goes insane. Of course rapid aging is a favoured vampire ending but also fits in to non-vampiric longevity stories.

Weiss talks Pierre into doing the operation for him but then realises about Margo and further notices that the replacement gland has been taken from a live body (presumably the man attacked at the beginning). Normally they take the gland from a cadaver and revitalise it – however, such a gland only lasts four days before implant. Bonnet ran out of cadaver access before Weiss got there and, in desperation, took what he needed from a living man of, as he put it, no consequence.

There is a lovely theme of fearing and accepting death (Weiss accepts death and refused the treatment decades before) but it is little explored, unfortunately. Another theme seemed to be around Bonnet’s loneliness and the fact that he must change identity every decade to avoid suspicion. Such a theme is explored within the vampire genre but is this film of the vampire genre?

The idea of science prolonging life (especially if it means the death of another) is a grey area as far as I am concerned. Each film must be taken on its merits and sometimes it is only a feel that makes it ‘Vamp or Not’. For example, I stick by the view that Atom Age Vampire isn’t actually a vampire film but I Vampiri is. In this case I just didn’t get that feeling – as much as I wanted to. Whether “The Man in Half Moon Street” would prove to be so I cannot, at this time, say but will explore if I ever find it. Unfortunately, not vamp.

The imdb page is here.


Bill Dan Courtney said...

I have been trying to get this from online for a long time but cannot find a good torrent yet. Want to see it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Bill, lack of film access in China must be frustrating at times, you have my sympathies