aka The Man Who Lived Again
Director – Robert Stevenson, Screenplay – John L. Balderston, Sidney Gilliat & L. DuGarde Peach, Photography (b&w) – Jack Cox, Music Direction – Louis Levy, Art Direction – Vetchinsky. Production Company – Gaumont British Corpn. Ltd.
Boris Karloff (Dr Laurience), Anna Lee (Dr Clare Wyatt), John Loder (Dick Haslewood), Frank Cellier (Lord Haslewood), Donald Calthorp (Clayton), Cecil Parker (Dr Gratton), Lyn Harding (Professor Holloway)
Dr Clare Wyatt leaves her position as a surgeon to go to Genoa and work with Dr Laurience, the most brilliant neurosurgeon in the world. Laurience lives in an old decaying mansion and shows her how he has devised a means to transfer minds between monkeys. He next wants to try the process on humans. Clare’s boyfriend, journalist Dick Haslewood, writes an article about the townspeople’s fear of Laurience. This attracts the attention of his father, the newspaper baron Lord Haslewood, who persuades Laurience to come and work at his Haslewood Institute. There Haslewood sets about promoting Laurience’s name. However, when Laurience premieres his ideas about mind transfer at a lecture, he is greeted with the ridicule of the scientific community. When Haslwood wants to throw him out and commander his research, Laurience responds by swapping Haslewood’s mind with that of his crippled assistant Clayton.
Boris Karloff came to fame as the monster in Frankenstein (1931). This set Karloff on a career path that had him associated with horror parts – as both monsters and mad scientists – for the rest of his working life up until his death in 1969. The Man Who Changed His Mind was one such mad scientist effort where Karloff was brought to his native England to star rather than Hollywood where he resided and worked for most of his career.
The Man Who Changed His Mind sits squarely within the Gothic tradition of all the mad scientist films of this era. In the opening scenes, for instance, surgeon Anna Lee goes to take up a job as assistant for Karloff’s scientist. Today on a medical show like House M.D. (2004-12) or Grey’s Anatomy (2005– ), the arrival of a new intern would be rendered in relatively mundane, possibly even comedic, terms. Here though, in the perfectly Gothic and fear-filled view of science and medicine that the era operated by, when she approaches his home, it is surrounded by fog, the coachman refuses to enter the grounds, the mansion is rundown and decrepit, there are dogs heard barking, while elsewhere the locals mutter fearfully – in other words, her taking up a new job is akin to Jonathan Harker arriving at Castle Dracula. Elsewhere, Karloff gets the inevitable deathbed repentance scene where he begs Anna Lee to destroy the machine he invented for the sake of mankind. One interesting theme the film does take up us is the very topical and contemporary issue of commercial copyright on scientific discovery.
Robert Stevenson’s handling tends to the more prosaic but at least the film is better budgeted than many of the low-budget efforts that would be churned out in the next decade. The plot does an entertainingly vigorous job of twisting and turning around on itself within the film’s relatively slim (62 minute) running time. In particular, Frank Cellier gives quite a good performance in adopting different mannerisms after his body is take over by the wheelchair-ridden Clayton. Karloff invests the scientist with relatively more sympathy than most of his ilk were portrayed throughout this decade, although there comes the inevitable point when this starts to slide over into madness and his performance becomes dominated by maniacal gleams. Things get wonderfully contorted when it comes to the climactic scenes with Karloff plotting to steal the body of John Loder and the well shot scene where Anna Lee comes into hug him and then suddenly realises what has happened when she sees him smoking.
The film was produced by Gaumont-British, the subsidiary of the French production company Gaumont (the oldest film company in the world), who were principally known for most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films around this era, including classics like The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Surprisingly, the director was Robert Stevenson who later married the film’s leading actress Anna Lee and became a regular director for Disney. Stevenson also made efforts such as Gaumont’s Non-Stop New York (1937) about a super-plane and their version of King Solomon’s Mines (1937). He moved to Hollywood and began directing at Disney in the 1950s. His other genre efforts, all for Disney, include Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1963), Son of Flubber (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Monkey’s Uncle (1965), The Gnome-Mobile (1967), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Love Bug (1969), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Herbie Rides Again (1974), The Island at the Top of the World (1974) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976).