Indestructible Man (1956)
Guest Review by Jason Scott
I'm back! And with another fun review, this time of Indestructible Man, a sort of monster movie that's not quite as exciting as it should be, mostly because it gets distracted too much from the monster.
The movie starts with a shot of the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles, & an introduction to the male lead (I hesitate to use the word hero) Lieutenant Dick Chasen (a name that could have been taken straight out of a pulp fiction detective story). Dick was slang for detective at this time & didn't have the modern connotations we associate with it. It's tempting to play around with Chasen's name, but a little too easy. I'll just call him by his last name as much as possible.
Chasen's played by 39 year old Max Showalter (who in this picture is credited by the completely different name Casey Adams), a busy actor & musician from his childhood into the '80's. Sorry to say that his detective character here is completely bland & forgettable. Chasen's recording an account of the bizarre case that's just concluded. This technique derives from film noir (I'm thinking of a movie like Double Indemnity) & is a convenient way to include a voice-over that will intrude itself many times into the unfolding story. I don't know why so many movies of this time felt a voice-over was necessary. They seem to have thought that the average movie-goer wouldn't have been willing or possibly able to make even small inferences about what happens on-screen, so every plot point has to be underlined with a thick black marker to make sure we get it. In fact, most of what Chasen relates is either redundant or of little importance, & all of it could have been told through action, dialogue, & scene arrangement without the heavy-handed narration.
There's an establishing shot of the sign for San Quentin prison, & then we go to the death row section where Charles "The Butcher" Benton is talking to his lawyer. Butcher will be the monster of this movie, but he's also something like an anti-hero, & he's played by Lon Chaney Jr. The son of legendary silent movie star Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces, Chaney Jr. was born with the name Creighton but induced reluctantly to change his name in order to capitalize on his father's fame. Chaney Jr. got into acting later in life during the Depression & is best known for his performances in The Wolf Man (freely viewable on-line) & Of Mice and Men. Chaney Jr.'s best days were behind him by the time of this movie, he was sunk into alcoholism, & he looks pretty horrible. Close-ups of his face show lined & weathered skin, unkempt hair, & large bags under his bleary eyes. He does, though, look very much like the hardened, downtrodden criminal he's supposed to be portraying here. Chaney Jr. is a tall man with a thick chest, which makes him physically imposing & quite capable of passing as a movie's heavy.
Charles "The Butcher" Benton (Wow, does Chaney Jr. look ghastly.)
His lawyer, on the other hand, fits very much the mold of the conniving, sleazy attorney with his slicked-back hair & oily demeanor. His name's Paul Lowe, & he's played by Ross Elliot, whose right around the same age as Max Showalter & was even busier as an actor on the large & small screen up to the '80s. It's quite the contrast between the fresh-faced Lowe in his tailored suit on one side of the cell door, & the wretched-looking Butcher on the other side.
You probably want to move further away, Paul. Butcher could reach right through & strangle you, or slam your head against the bars, or something unpleasant like that.
Lowe says that the governor has rejected the last appeal for clemency, & that Butcher's time of execution is nigh. Butcher was involved in the robbery of an armored truck carrying $600,000. It's never explained, but to get the death penalty he must have gunned down one (or more) armored guards during the heist, or blown away a cop (or cops) during his arrest. With a nickname like Butcher, it can be safely assumed that this guy is the savage sort.
Butcher worked with two other crooks who subsequently squealed on him. He's pretty bitter about that double-cross, & blames his lawyer, who masterminded the caper. Lowe says that Butcher got greedy & tried to take more than his fair share. Butcher has hidden the money somewhere, & Lowe is trying to coax him into revealing the hiding place, but the only thing Butcher wants to give Lowe is a painful death. He swears a vendetta against his erstwhile partners-in-crime. Aside from Lowe, the other two are small-time hoods named Joe Marcelli & Squeamy Ellis. Lowe isn't too concerned about the threats of a soon-to-be dead man & walks off.
Joe Marcelli (L) & Squeamy Ellis (R)
The next scene is in Chasen's impressively big office. Chasen's visited by the Captain of the LAPD, John Lauder. Lauder says that the case involving Butcher is officially closed now that the criminal is due to be executed at five in the afternoon & the money is still nowhere to be found. Chasen has been working on this case for a while, & he's become convinced somehow that Lowe is mixed up in all this illicit business. He's going to keep investigating on his own time to uncover evidence that will get the arch-villain caged. Lauder is quite supportive of Chasen's plan, & the two clearly have great respect for each other. Contrast this relationship with that in the typical cop action movie, in which the maverick hero & the superior officer are antagonistic.
Dick Chasen (L) and John Lauder (R). Look at Chasen's spacious office. And I'm probably stuck in cubicle purgatory for the rest of my career.
Butcher cleaned up nicely for this photo. Normally he looks as though he's already half-dead.
As part of his unofficial investigation, Chasen goes to see Eva Martin, a dancer at a burlesque house who was romantically linked to Butcher. This relationship is completely unbelievable, as Butcher is around 50 & nasty in every way, while Eva is about twenty years younger & quite lovely with a sweet personality. Chasen visits Eva at her workplace & mines her for information as to what her burly beau was up to. The two have gone through this process many times already, & Chasen is beginning to believe Eva's continual assertions that she was entirely innocent of Butcher's criminal activities. I would find it hard to believe that Eva never even suspected anything about Butcher, as this guy has "violent criminal" written all over him in bold letters. Eva is played by Marian (or Marion) Carr, who acted pretty steadily for ten years but for some reason has no credits past the year this movie appeared.
Eva Martin, telling Chasen in no uncertain terms that she does not do free shows at his apartment, badge or no badge.
When leaving the burlesque house, Chasen sees Lowe approaching & immediately jumps on to a nearby chair & covers his face with a handy magazine. The chair is used by an unfortunate black man who's means of living seems to be flashing his beaming smile at all the white guys while shining their shoes. It must have really sucked being an African-American actor in a Hollywood movie of this period if the roles were mostly these subservient ones.
"Hey mister, you see how I'm buffing this leather to a nice gloss? Your shoe will look really good as you grind the sole down into my face."
Chasen watches Lowe enter the burlesque house. Lowe's also here to see Eva, trying to glean from her any information on where the payload of stolen money is hidden. How they know each other is never really explained. Eva clearly doesn't realize that Lowe is a crook, or suspect him in any way, although it's more understandable because he does appear respectable. The radio's on as Lowe comes in to Eva's dressing room, & the news of Butcher's successful execution is being broadcast. Eva gets despondent & pulls a small envelope from a high shelf. Lowe innocently asks what the envelope's about & Eva blithely tells him that it's something Butcher sent to her to open upon his death. She gets called off to perform before she can open the envelope, & carelessly leaves the package given to her in confidence on her dressing table where anyone can take it. Lowe asks if she wants to go to dinner after work, but it's obvious he's not very sincere, & he's not at all upset when his offer is turned down.
Lowe predictably goes for the envelope as soon as Eva leaves. He carefully unseals it & finds a very crude map that's untitled but must be marking the route to the loot. Just to make sure we get it, though, Chasen's voice comes in to inform us of something that should be obvious.
"Uh...I'm the executor of Benton's estate. Yeah, that's it. I'll have to confiscate that note until I determine whether it was bequeathed to you in the will."
How the hell are you supposed to find anything with this map?
Lowe switches out the map for, as Chasen tells us, a $50 bill. It's unnecessary for him to tell us this, as Eva will later mention what she found in the envelope. Another reason I dislike voice-overs, especially ones given by major characters, is that it gives away plot points that could be used to create some suspense. We know from the beginning that Chasen will survive to the end of the movie to give his account of what happens, & now we can easily figure out that he'll wring a confession from Lowe somehow, since that's the only way he could be aware of exactly what's happened in this scene.
What about Eva? She seems absurdly naive & far too trusting. How long has she known Lowe? Her experience with Butcher should have led her to be a bit more cautious around people, but she trusts Lowe without reservation. And why is she sad at all about Butcher's death? Eva should be lucky that she escaped from a relationship that would surely have turned violent soon enough. Butcher's crimes were so terrible as to deserve capital punishment & there's no suggestion that he's been unjustly executed. Eva's dejection seems completely misplaced. The scene now shifts to a laboratory in San Francisco. Chasen's voice informs us that this is the lab of Dr. Bradshaw, who's working on a radical cure for cancer. He's awaiting the return of his assistant, who's gone out to find a corpse that the treatment will be tested upon. I'm sure much of this scene was taken from the Frankenstein movie tradition.
Bradshaw's assistant comes in, & guess what body he's bringing with him? That's right, Charles "The Butcher" Benton. His corpse has been diverted here thanks to a bribed employee at the mortuary where it was supposed to go. It's obvious Bradshaw & his assistant are acting outside of the official scientific establishment here, but it's never explained why. I guess Bradshaw's wanting to move faster through the experiments than the system will allow. Bradshaw's assistant isn't the standard Igor/hunchbacked type, but a nerdy looking guy with glasses & a bow tie. Bradshaw has a tie on, though I don't see why it is these two have dressed up so well to conduct a secret experiment in the middle of the night.
Assistant: That's a very nice tie, Doctor. May I get one of those?
Bradshaw: Absolutely not. Only full-fledged Doctors like me wear ties. You stick to that tiny bow tie until I tell you otherwise.
Bradshaw draws back the blanket covering Butcher's body to get a look at his face, & the eyelids of this "corpse" twitch noticeably when the camera does a close-up shot. Bradshaw draws some blood from Butcher's body (can blood be drawn from a corpse with a dead circulatory system?) & then it's wheeled into some kooky machine where it will be subjected to exactly 287,000 volts of electricity. It's never explained why this particular voltage is so crucial to this process. The machine has a built-in X-ray screen that will be used to gauge the success of the experiment. Bradshaw must be independently wealthy to fund all this expensive, power-sucking equipment. He also somehow managed to build his lab at an electrical relay station, allowing him as much current as he could possibly want.
Bradshaw: Oh yes, that's mighty fine looking.
Assistant: The X-ray images are showing up clearly, Doctor?
Bradshaw: X-rays? Oh right. Let me turn this knob & I'll get back to those.
What looks like a bag of blood is fed into the corpse. The switch is thrown & lightning arcs between two electrodes in shots stolen from about every mad scientist movie ever made while the voltage meter climbs steadily. When the magic number is reached, the juice is cut off & Bradshaw with his assistant looks through the X-ray screen to see what's happened.
The sparky thing is turned on...
...& the voltmeter starts to climb.
One would expect that a sustained high-voltage electric current running through a human body would turn it to a charred & smoking crisp, but not so here. Looking at the X-ray, Bradshaw & his assistant are astonished to see a pulsing light that indicates Butcher's heart is beating. How would this light show up on an X-ray? The assistant thinks that Butcher has been brought back to life, but Bradshaw thinks that the heart must be merely mechanically reacting to the current it's received. The assistant says that according to Bradshaw's theory the body's cells should be reproducing at a fantastic rate right now. Butcher's body gets wheeled out of the machine, & it's starting to move in a way that definitely indicates returning life. There's no "It's Alive!" moment of near-hysterical triumph here, though it would be warranted. The big problem is that Bradshaw was never intending to resurrect dead bodies & doesn't really know what to do now.
Butcher's Thoughts: Am I still alive? Damn! I was looking forward to my trip to Hell. The Devil could've used me as an enforcer."
Bradshaw tells his assistant to get adrenaline & some other chemical. While the assistant is gone, Butcher very groggily rises to his feet over Bradshaw's protestations. Bradshaw & his assistant know very well whom it is they're dealing with here, but they act as if Butcher is a rational man rather than a brutal killer.
Butcher knocks Bradshaw aside, lurches out of the lab, & comes to a locked door. He easily knocks the door right off its hinges, but for whatever reason, turns around & heads back into the lab. Bradshaw is back up & gets Butcher to calm himself & sit down. Chasen's voice-over says that Butcher can't talk anymore, as his vocal chords have been scorched by the electrical treatment. Why only his vocal chords? He also mentions that Bradshaw must not be calling for any help at this point because he figures that Butcher couldn't possibly have been brought back to life for more than a few minutes. Chasen's explanation for Bradshaw's behavior is reasonable, but it's total speculation that the audience could just as easily engage in. If Chasen is correct about Bradshaw's motivation, it indicates the Bradshaw is one of those paradoxically really smart/really dumb types. Being alone with a monster like the Butcher is very dangerous, even if he's going to be safely dead soon, & now's hardly the time to be making risky assumptions about an experiment that's never been done before & has gone in a completely unexpected direction.
"Now Mr. Psychopath, I want you to be calm & rational."
The assistant comes back with the chemicals requested, but they're of no use now. Bradshaw has the assistant get him a syringe to take a blood sample, but finds the needle can't pierce Butcher's skin. He & his assistant converse & conclude that the treatment has caused Butcher's skin cells to multiply so thickly that his hide is superhumanly tough, just as his freakishly multiplied muscle cells have given him superhuman strength. With just a little tweaking, this movie could easily have been the pilot of a superhero series (Butcher's like an evil Luke Cage). As is, it's like we have the super villain without the hero to fight him, which is kind of film noirish, I'd say.
Butcher is overhearing everything, & it's obvious the wheels in his head are turning rapidly as he learns that he's incredibly strong & impenetrable. Really, though, Butcher should be in a vegetative state. The brain can survive maybe three minutes without oxygen before getting damaged, & Butcher's brain has been deprived much longer than that. Chasen's voice-over states that Butcher's brain is working fine, so somehow the treatment has regenerated the complex neural pathways that had rapidly deteriorated upon Butcher's death.
Assistant: Doctor, do you think it's dangerous for us to be talking about this guy while he's standing right there?
Bradshaw: Don't be silly. What could be the harm in letting a violent criminal know that he's now incredibly strong & indestructible? It's not like he would attack us & go on a rampage.
Butcher's Thoughts: I'm going to attack these two & go on a rampage.
Butcher sets out to pursue his vendetta. Bradshaw again tries to talk him down, but Butcher's had enough of these two & strangles them both, one in each hand. Bradshaw will never get to share his treatment with the world, although I don't see how it could have been a cancer treatment, anyway. Cancer is due to cells explosively dividing at an abnormal rate. The treatment Butcher's been through has also caused shockingly swift cell division, but instead of malignant tumors, the effect has been invulnerability & superhuman strength. If Bradshaw had known about this consequence before, he could have easily gotten the military to fund his research, which would have led to a corps (perhaps undead corps) of super soldiers to send against the Commie menace. Instead, Bradshaw revived a murderer & now his research is gone forever. Such wasted potential.
Assistant: Urk! Doctor, I think this was a mistake!
Bradshaw: Gaaah! This is your fault! You picked the wrong body!
Butcher stumbles around a bit while Chasen's voice goes on about stuff that's already well established, like Butcher's unquenchable thirst for retribution. For the first of many times there's a close-up of Butcher's eyes, which are twitching & crazed. The return from the grave has completely unhinged the already unstable Butcher, & he's going to focus with psychotic obsession on his quest to exact revenge. The reason I called him an anti-hero at the beginning of the review is that a hero could easily go on this sort of mission, differing only in motives. What drives Butcher is quite evident. His facial features communicate quite well that his overriding emotion is, like the Hulk, nothing more than primal rage.
Butcher's dropped off the edge of sanity.
Now that the stage has been set for the Butcher's rampage, the movie's tense atmosphere will be deflated so a pointless romantic subplot can be introduced. Predictably, Chasen has taken a shining to Eva & has come back to the burlesque house to ask her out. I guess there's no conflict of interest here as the case Eva was mixed up in is officially closed & Chasen has pretty much discarded her from his unofficial investigation. My earlier decision not to poke fun at Chasen's first name is put under great strain here as Eva asks what it is & he says with a pleasant smile to call him Dick.
Eva: Are you sure you wouldn't prefer me to call you Rich? I'd like to think of you as Rich.
Chasen: Absolutely not! I told you my name is Dick, & that's what I want you to call me. When you see me, just think of Dick.
Chasen's idea of a great date is taking her out for burgers & then having them eat in his car. It would've been cute (in a "I'm a middle-aged guy pretending I'm still a teenager" sort of way) if they ended up going to a drive-in movie, or to a field where they could have looked at the starry night sky, but instead it looks like they eat in a parking lot. How romantic. Eva actually seems surprisingly charmed by this pretty lame effort. I know Chasen wouldn't have a huge salary, but someone with a nice big office should be able to do a little better than this.
So the two of them talk while swoony music plays on the soundtrack. Chasen tells Eva why he became a cop, & she tells him how she ended up in a burlesque house. None of this history is in any way startling or relevant to the plot. Eva says that she only dated Butcher a few times out of pity, really, & had told him that she wasn't interested in anything serious, which shows that she actually does have some sense. Chasen still finds it hard to believe (as do I) that Eva never once wondered how Butcher made a living, but apparently her relationship with him was more of a media creation than anything else. This first date concludes well enough for Chasen, though there's no kiss, at least not on-screen. I think he better put a lot more effort into the next date, which can just stay out of this movie, since I really don't care whether these two get together or not.
"Why are you leering at me like that? And you have a strange glint in your eye."
Chasen's Voice-Over: "Yeah, I totally wanted to maul this woman. I had to come up with some scheme to do it legally, though."
Chasen's still keeping tabs on Lowe, & finds out Joe is going to a meeting with the crooked attorney at a bar in the same building as Lowe's office. Joe's the oldest member of this trio Butcher's hunting, & what's most notable about him is that he gets around using crutches. The crutches are a nice touch to distinguish Joe from Squeamy. They don't get much screen time, as it would take away from Chasen's most important wooing of Eva (roll eyes). When Joe enters the bar, a cantankerous old woman immediately jibes him for being a stoolie. Joe tries to whack her with a crutch, but is stopped by the bar owner who's about to toss Joe out when Lowe intercedes. Lowe gets Joe to a booth & the two start talking. Joe's apparently a lush as well as physically lame, as Joe pointedly whisks away a bottle of liquor Joe's reaching for, saying they need to discuss business first.
Joe's an expert safe cracker, but he's going through some tough times. He's almost out of money & nobody's willing to hire him after he testified against Butcher. It seems silly to speak about notions of fairness & trust among thieves, but I guess there is some sort of honor system. I doubt anyone really cares about Butcher personally, but criminal enterprises require some sort of cooperation among gang members, & it's hard to trust somebody who's sold out a partner for what appears to be little reason. Joe accuses Lowe of putting him up to that treachery, but Lowe brushes this remark aside & offers Joe some work. He says that it's connected to the armored truck job, & when Joe asks how much he'll get, Lowe offers him a mere $2,000. Joe points out that a couple of grand is chump change compared to the much larger payout from the armored truck. Lowe says he'll get someone else if Joe's not interested, & after a moment's hesitation Joe takes the job, preferring low-paying work to no work at all.
"Tell you what, Joe? Do this job, & you can have the whole bottle."
Joe's clasping his hands to keep them from shaking. He feels his throat tightening & his chest constrict. He must have alcohol very soon. "I'll do it, Lowe! You don't even need to pay me in anything but lots of booze!"
Time to reconnect with Butcher, who's been hiking steadily to LA, hampered by not having super speed among his other powers. On the plus side, it looks like his rejuvenated body may very well not need food or water or sleep. While Butcher's making his way along a road, he spots a lovely young woman standing next to a car. Chasen's voice-over (go away!) returns to let us know that Butcher's attention is riveted by the car, which will give him a fast means of transportation. He walks up to the car & is immediately accosted by a garrulous fellow who claims to work for a carnival. The woman with him is completely silent & unresponsive. I'm thinking she might be some kind of android. Carny (that's what he says his name is) says this woman was only meant as an attractive lure to get drivers to stop. That's a good plan, & it's strange that there were vehicles whizzing right by without any drivers offering to help the lovely lady in distress. It turns out the only problem with the car is that a back tire needs to be changed & there's no jack to lift the car with. Fortunately for them, Butcher is a human car jack; unfortunately for them, he's also a total fiend.
Butcher might pass as Superman's nasty drunken slob of a Kryptonian uncle.
The tire is quickly replaced, & Carny is even more excited now, thinking that he has a new lucrative star attraction. If Butcher were a decent human being, he might have ended up performing with a carnival troupe, which would have been amusing. But his plan does not include being a circus exhibit, so he quickly kills Carny & takes off in the car. The woman briefly shows some emotion for the first time, proving that perhaps she's not an android though she is a mute. Did her vocal chords get burned out somehow, too?
Maybe this woman is actually an alien. It's using this body as a disguise, but hasn't mastered simulating human emotion yet.
News of this attack quickly spreads & San Francisco police cruise around setting up road blocks so they can catch this mysterious murderer, who no one of course suspects is Butcher. A pair of cops at one of these roadblocks is checking a fellow's ID when Butcher comes roaring up. I expected him to just crash the barricade, but instead he charges out of the car & goes on an all-out offensive. The doomed cops are choked & beaten to death, their gunfire useless to stop Indestructible Man (bit of a cumbersome action name, I think). The driver being interrogated by the cops runs off to report what he's seen of a man who's bulletproof.
The blur on the left is Butcher. Notice how the cop's gun isn't aimed at him.
Chasen reads about the attack in the newspaper next day & dismisses the eyewitness account as being the delusions of a man who was afflicted with shock while watching two men being brutally killed. He talks to Lauder who's concentrating all his forces on hunting down this menace, which he suspects is coming to LA, & politely tells Chasen to forget about pursuing Lowe right now.
Did you read that? They're planning on bringing out a new tax! Where do I go to sign the petition? It's on-line, isn't it?
Butcher meanwhile is following in the footsteps of Chasen & Lowe by going to see Eva. He's after the map he's left with her, of course, though Chasen feels that he needs to tell us this with his (gah!) voice-over. Eva's surprisingly calm when she sees a man she thought safely dead standing in her dressing room. I think she really should be screaming her lungs out right now calling for help.
...& the Beast. This is the closest Butcher ever comes to appearing compassionate. It's like a glimmer of sunlight peeking through ugly black clouds for an instant.
Very luckily for Eva, Butcher's not interested in harming her. He shows her the holes in his shirt from bullets that didn't go through his body, & further demonstrates his invulnerability by grabbing a pair of scissors & stabbing himself in the palm without even leaving a mark. Given how strong Butcher is, I'd think he might at least be able to leave an impression of the scissors on his skin, but the tissue is just that tough.
Kids, DO NOT try this at home.
Butcher sees the envelope & is upset to find it empty. Eva says she got the $50 he left her, though she didn't understand why he did it, & neither did Paul. At the sound of Lowe's name, we get another close-up shot of Butcher's crazed eyes. This alone tells us what Butcher's thinking, but Chasen (gritting teeth) has to tell us the obvious once again here. Butcher storms out, shoving aside Eva when she foolishly tries to stop him. Seriously, he must really like her for letting her live given that she allowed his precious map to get into the hands of his sworn enemy. Eva should be doing everything she can to stay out of Butcher's way, rather than deliberately getting in the way of a man who remorselessly kills people for trivial reasons.
Eva actually pursues Butcher out into the street &, when she can't see him in the crowd, finally does something sensible & tries to get a hold of Chasen. Being one of those deprived people who lived in the age before mobile phones, Eva has to use a quaint rotary pay phone. Chasen's away, however, so Eva leaves a message that Butcher is back from the dead, "and not even bullets can stop him!" She then has to convince the officer on the other end of the line that she's not crazy. Eva won't give her name for some reason, calling herself "a friend of Charlie's", which Chasen should somehow recognize as being her. Why anyone would want to be known as a friend of The Butcher is beyond me.
"Call me Deep Throat. No! Deep Throat is a name, not a service. I'm calling from a burlesque house. Yes, I'm quite sure I don't provide that kind of service."
Unable to contact Chasen, Eva now tries to get a hold of Squeamy to warn him Butcher's coming. What? She knows Squeamy too, & knows his phone number, & can just call him up like that? Does she know Squeamy's a crook? I don't understand how a woman who's as innocent as Eva appears to be can be so friendly with so many people from the criminal Underworld. Either Eva's much less guilt-free than she's letting on, or she's one of the most ridiculously guileless people to ever exist. And how does Eva know that Butcher's going after Squeamy? He sure couldn't tell her so. If anything, she might think that he's going after Lowe, but she's not trying to get a hold of him, & wouldn't (or so it would seem) know why Butcher would have a grudge against Lowe, anyway.
Well, putting all that to the side for now, Squeamy doesn't believe Butcher's come back revenant-like from the dead, but does think his former accomplice has somehow put out a contract on his life & is spooked. This information doesn't come through the actors talking but rather from (urgh!) another of Chasen's voice-overs. Do detectives really need to put all these little details into their case files?
While Eva was dialing the phone, another dancer named Francine had asked to use her eyebrow pencil, & this woman's now in Eva's dressing room when she returns there. Eva's called out to do her performance, & Francine offers to take Eva's place, saying that she can do the dance just as well. Chasen's voice-over (curling hands into fists) tells us that Eva is going to let the other dancer do her routine so she can go off & somehow stop Butcher. I think Eva has some kind of secret death wish.
As for where Chasen is, he's in Lauder's office. The Captain's showing some bizarre fingerprints lifted from the vehicle Butcher was driving. Butcher abandoned this car outside LA city limits & it's been found by police. Not only are these fingerprints imprinted into the car's steering wheel as if by a machine press, they are a match for the supposedly dead Butcher. The only possible explanation the two can think of is that an identical twin has emerged to terrorize the city in revenge for his brother's death. Just then the Sergeant who took Eva's call comes in &, sure enough, Chasen recognizes that Eva is the "friend of Charlie's". The Sergeant says Eva sounded hysterical, though I listened to every word of that conversation & she never once sounded hysterical. Chasen goes off to find out what Eva's message means, & the Sergeant complains about how he never gets assignments that take him to a burlesque house.
The Sergeant: Why don't I have any beautiful women calling me over to burlesque houses?
Lauder: Because you're a chunky nobody without even a name in this movie. Now run along & get me some coffee.
Butcher is, indeed, heading to the apartment that Lowe & Squeamy apparently share. Butcher wants to take out the two flunkies & save the big man for last. He takes a tram called Angel's Flight up to Squeamy's building & stares at the window of his quarrys' apartment with those crazy eyes. Chasen's voice-over (someone break his tape recorder, please!) tells us that Butcher is noting the only other means of getting out of the apartment is the fire escape. OK, so is Butcher going to go in through the window, or somehow cut off this escape route so Squeamy is trapped like a rat? Nope. He just ends up going through the front door, allowing Squeamy to hear Butcher's approach & flee using that very escape route that Chasen told us Butcher knew about.
Eva's now arrived, though again I don't understand how she knows Butcher was heading here. She stares at him as he's looking down at the street from the fire escape outside Squeamy's apartment. They both notice that Joe is making his way back to the apartment. What a marvelous stroke of luck for Butcher, that another guy on his hit list is conveniently walking right into his deadly hands. Eva takes off to warn Joe, who I guess is another professional criminal she knows but whose shady lifestyle she's somehow ignorant of. All her intervention here will likely mean is that both she & Joe will end up dead. As it happens, Eva doesn't get to Joe before Butcher does. Joe tries to get away, but a guy on crutches is just not going to outrun another guy with two fully functional legs. Overtaken, Joe gamely swings at Butcher with his crutches, but the makeshift weapons are easily pulled away. Butcher hoists Joe up over his head & throws him down a set of concrete stairs. That's really got to hurt. Eva arrives just in time to gaze upon Joe's broken body. A police cruiser pulls up immediately & the cop who so diligently responds to trouble is killed when his point blank gunshots inevitably fail to have any effect.
Joe does some Crutch Fu.
Then Joe gets tossed. The flight through the air might be fun if gravity didn't assert itself & send Joe crashing into concrete.
Squeamy has scurried off to the bar that Joe & Lowe had conferred in earlier. Squeamy, as befits his mousy name, is in a state of near panic. After ordering two shots of hard liquor to calm his nerves, he tries to get the bar owner's help. He says that there's a hired killer out after him, & the bar owner stops him right there, telling Squeamy to "drink up and get out" before he brings any trouble to the bar. Squeamy resentfully finishes his glass, pays his bill, & takes off to another place of sanctuary.
Squeamy gets tossed out by the bartender. The cantankerous old woman is to his left. Who is she? Does she live at this bar, like how Barney lives at Moe's on The Simpsons?
His choice of sanctuary is logical but turns out to be very poor. Squeamy heads to Lowe's office, right when Butcher has also headed there to introduce the attorney to his horrendous death. He finds that Lowe's not in, & seemingly has no secretary, either. Butcher's time hasn't been wasted, though, because Squeamy comes scurrying up to the fifth floor where Lowe's office is. This is the second instance when Butcher has missed out on his intended target, but managed by accident to nab someone else he had set his sights on. Confronted by Butcher, Squeamy pulls out a gun & shoots from the hip, though in this case it wouldn't matter if he were an expert marksman. Carrying on with the practice he established with Joe, Butcher picks Squeamy up & throws him off the fifth floor landing to the balcony far below. That's really got to hurt, too.
A woman bystander screams & makes for the lobby phone to call the police while Butcher looks over the railing & smiles in sadistic joy. Eva also shows up at this building, presumably wanting to warn Lowe, who's the one I'd think she'd have headed to first. A small crowd's gathered around Squeamy's body, & Eva learns from the bartender that there's only one body, so Lowe is not yet a victim of Butcher's wrath. In both attacks, Eva's appearance has made no difference to anything. She may as well have just stayed at the burlesque house & carried on with her regular routine.
"This is the way of the world. People can get way up to the top...
...but they come crashing down & end up like that."
Back at Lauder's office, Chasen has been getting in touch with some people & starting to make some connections. He's discovered that Butcher's body never made it to the mortuary after his execution, & that a scientist & his assistant have turned up dead. The station wagon at Bradshaw's is very similar to the station wagon that was used to carry off Butcher's body. Say, I wonder why Butcher didn't just use this station wagon to drive to LA? He could've found the keys easily enough, I'm sure, & it wouldn't have led to the huge manhunt resulting from his murder of Carny & the theft of that vehicle. Anyway, Chasen & Lauder head out to interview a hysterical woman who's reported the murder of her boyfriend. All the time they've been talking, Eva's been in the office, but she hasn't said or done anything. Why's she here? When the men leave, she's just left standing there with no task to perform or place to go. I can only figure she's being kept here for her own safety in case Butcher comes for her again.
"Do you like the new window ornament I brought in over there? From what I understand, she's multi-purpose & can also be made to cook, clean, & have babies."
So the two detectives interview this sobbing woman out at her car. She tells the tale of her boyfriend, a man named Jimmy who after an argument went off & had an altercation with Butcher, & ended up getting viciously killed. It's hard to hear over the woman's blubbering, but it sounds like Butcher lifted Jimmy up over his head (he keeps going back to that move) & broke his back. I don't understand why this scene is in here. It doesn't further the plot or provide any useful information. Jimmy is never seen on-screen, so there's no reason to really care about his death, which simply has no purpose.
"Who am I? What am I doing in this movie?"
While heading to his office, Lowe has heard on the car radio about the murder of Squeamy & how Butcher might be involved in it. He heads to the burlesque house to see what Eva knows, but ends up talking to Francine, who informs Lowe that Eva is at police headquarters. Normally this is the last place Lowe would want to go, but right now he's thinking some police protection would be a good idea, since Butcher had sworn to see him dead, after all. His interaction with Francine is interesting. He grabs her arm & roughly tells her to say where Eva is. Francine tells Lowe to mind his tone & take his hand off her, which he meekly does. Lowe is obviously not the hands-on type, far more comfortable with planning crimes from afar than getting mixed up in the action himself.
Francine lets criminal schemer Lowe know where he stands, which is somewhere under her heel.
Chasen & Eva are in Lauder's office, & Chasen is pretty much acting as the Captain right now, assuring the mayor that every angle is being covered to crack this case. In a strange scene, Eva starts fiddling around with her heeled shoes, & then the Sergeant comes in offering her flat shoes, joking that it was all the police office had in it's costume department. What's this about? I guess Eva's feet are sore because she's been in high heels all day, which has got to hurt, but what purpose does this have to do with the movie at all?
The Sergeant: I couldn't find any flowers, so I thought I'd offer you these instead.
Chasen's Voice-Over: This is when I decided the Sergeant would have to be fired.
The Sergeant's leaving the office when Lowe comes barging in, declaring that he must speak with the Captain. Eva informs Lowe that both Squeamy & Joe are dead. Really concerned for himself now, Lowe demands police protection, but Chasen isn't willing to help the attorney unless Lowe starts opening up about his role in the armored car heist. Until he's willing to confess, Lowe will have to be content with the current police stakeouts at his house. Lowe, thinking quickly, turns around & socks the Sergeant in the face, immediately sending him off to a nice safe jail cell where Butcher will have a much harder time getting to him.
Chasen's Voice-Over: I wanted to whack Lowe in order to show Eva how manly I am, but I was really rather glad to see that Sergeant get smacked.
Later on, Lauder comes to Chasen's office, & finds out that there's been no luck finding Butcher, despite trying every spot they can think of that he might be hiding in. Chasen has a proposition for Lauder. He says that they can use Lowe's fear of Butcher to get a confession from him. They'll pretend to let Lowe go, saying that his attack of the Sergeant was a case of nerves that doesn't deserve jail time. Hopefully, Lowe will be so terrified of heading back out on the streets where Butcher will probably get him that he'll be willing to admit practically anything. Lauder's hesitant, saying that Lowe will get a year for punching the Sergeant (attacking a police officer comes with a pretty stiff penalty), which is at least something, & that he won't deliberately place Lowe in danger by letting him go, regardless of how much he dislikes the man. Chasen says that Lowe doesn't know about & can't count on such scruples saving his skin, which persuades Lauder that it's worth a shot. The two detectives come to Lowe's jail cell with the Sergeant as their stenographer. Being a Sergeant in the police force seems to be a lot like being a secretary. You take phone messages, write shorthand notes, & run various errands for the superior officers. Lowe is flabbergasted when told that he can leave. He claims it would be murder to set him out on the streets with Butcher prowling around. The cops pretend that Lowe is greatly exaggerating the danger & he'll be fine. Cracking quickly, Lowe offers to give the cops some more information about the armored truck robbery but stops just short of a confession. Smelling blood, Lauder says that he's not interested in any deals, since Lowe would say anything to save his hide, which I'm sure he really would. Admitting defeat, Lowe instructs the Sergeant to take down the confession that he starts to relate, admitting that he planned the armored truck robbery, hiring Squeamy, Joe, & Butcher to carry it out.
"And I confess that I'm not a real lawyer. I cheated to get through my bar exam. I know nothing about the law."
Lowe gives other valuable information, including the (useless) map that leads to the stolen money, & crucially the knowledge of how Butcher's avoiding detection by using the city sewer system. This precious nugget sets up the final confrontation between Butcher & the LA police force. All the sewer entrances are systematically blocked off. Having found it prudent to be in the sewers as the heat around him increases, Butcher is now trapped. He's very much like the dangerous beast cornered in its own den. He happens to be near as Chasen & Lauder pull up outside the sewers & prepare to go in. Chasen's been talking to some people at Caltech, & has brought along someone with a flamethrower to use against Butcher! Butcher understandably looks pretty distressed at the mention of a flamethrower, & his eyes get that crazed look.
Here's a strange car that's rolling around a few scenes as the police draw down their net.
The police team, including the guy with a flamethrower & another guy with a bazooka descend into the sewers. Butcher is now desperately trying to evade his pursuers long enough to get the stolen money & escape somehow. Without the (useless) map, he must be searching for the money by memory. He eventually does find the chest the money is locked in. However, in breaking open the chest Butcher makes enough noise that the nearby searchers hear & come running. Indicating how useless the map is, Chasen & a silent officer have gotten lost while following it & have to backtrack.
Lauder: Boy, my shoes are really get soaked walking through all this water. Why did we wear suits down to this wet, filthy sewer?
Chasen: I was going to ask why you're holding that dinky gun that's completely useless against The Butcher.
Butcher doesn't have enough time to get away with the money, & ends up getting hit full in the chest with a bazooka shot! In Kick Ass, Mark Strong's mob don character ended up flying out a window & exploding when hit by a bazooka shell. In this movie, Butcher survives the hit & doesn't get knocked off his feet, but is hurt badly & reels away clutching his chest.
Butcher's hide could reinforce tanks.
His problems are just beginning, though, as the flamethrower guy comes up & lets Butcher have it! He gets burned but his hair & clothing must be flame retardant since they don't catch fire. Even more badly hurt, Butcher heaves himself away & goes up an entrance to the surface.
Just when you thought Butcher couldn't look any worse...
Since he's on the other side of a narrow entrance that people can only go through single file, Butcher might try attacking anyone who pokes his head out, but he's only interested in flight. He's come up in an enormous electrical power plant, & staggers through the high voltage equipment seeking something that will help him escape.
Butcher comes across this huge crane that runs on a track & climbs up to the control room. He somehow knows what lever to press to make this crane go, & it begins slowly making its way along the track. The cops have caught up to Butcher, but they make no attempt to try scaling this crane, even though it's so slow they could easily overtake it. It looks as though Butcher just might manage to make a get-away.
Indestructible Man's mode of transportation. The Green Goblin's jet glider would be more effective.
What stops Butcher is actually a metal hook dangling from a cable attached to the crane. This hook is dangling down far enough that it strikes one of the electrical generators, causing a tremendous explosion that sends what I would imagine is far more than 287,000 volts coursing through the crane & into Butcher's body.
Butcher's getting a real charge out of this experience.
This blast of electricity returns Butcher to his previous dead state, but really why should it? Why couldn't Butcher have grown even more powerful with a bigger burst of electric energy? He could've ended up a 100-foot tall colossus sheathed in electricity & shooting bolts of lightning from his fingertips, kind of like what's shown in the movie poster art. That would've been pretty awesome. It doesn't happen, though.
The End of Indestructible Man.
I was pretty surprised that Lowe survived to the end. I fully expected that he would be killed. In fact, I imagined a final confrontation involving Butcher, Lowe, Chasen, & Eva where Lowe dies & Chasen somehow slays Butcher to save Eva, as befits his heroic role. This ending has Chasen doing very little, which is why at the beginning I didn't really want to call him the hero. Generally, characters earn the status of hero by doing heroic things, not by standing around & watching as the villain by a great stroke of luck electrocutes himself.
The film should end at this shocking (pardon the pun) finale, but drags on for another few minutes to anti-climactically wrap up some minor plot points. Chasen & Lauder have one more scene together. Chasen's finished his recording of the case (finally!). Lauder asks how Eva's doing, & Chasen says she had left the hospital to go back to work. Uh, why was Eva in a hospital? She hadn't been physically injured & didn't seem to suffer much of any psychological trauma that I could tell. There's really no need for her to have been hospitalized. Chasen asks Lauder about his vacation time, & is told that he has two days starting now.
Here's the moment you've no doubt been waiting for breathlessly, the conclusion of the very vanilla love subplot. Chasen has Eva out in his car again, & they're probably feasting upon hamburgers. Chasen has two big surprises for Eva. Number one, he got her fired from her job that day. Number two, she's going to marry him. Eva actually seems happy at discovering that a man who's taken her on two uninspired dates after harassing her for at least six months about a crime she knew nothing about is now going to be her husband. Really, though, what choice does she have? She could try to get a similar dancing gig to what she had, which isn't appealing, or maybe get some kind of secretarial work that will pay a meager salary she could barely live on. It says something about the times this movie was made in that Chasen's actions here would be considered a happy ending. He's saving Eva from the burlesque house & making an honest woman out of her, or that would be the reasoning. These sort of heavy-handed tactics would be considered pretty reprehensible if used today. And what bedrock are they supposed to build a relationship upon that will endure for the rest of their lives? Their mutual appreciation for drive-through hamburgers?
"I have a really nice pair of handcuffs for you. They're attached to the stove you'll be cooking my meals on. I'm throwing in an apron that you can wash with the rest of my laundry."
"You really are trying to live down to your name, aren't you, Dick?"
So, what's the final word on Indestructible Man? I think the title character is very effective. Butcher is an electrically charged, vengeance-crazed, evil Hulk-type killing machine. He's a very simple character, but that's all he needs to be, & his goal of revenge is admirably straightforward. Butcher's terrifying because he's so relentless & nothing seems to stop him. He'll crush anyone or anything that gets in his way. Every other character, male or female, cop or criminal, dresses impeccably, but Butcher looks like he just crawled out of the gutter after several hard rounds with the whiskey bottle. He's more monster than man, & attempts to humanize Butcher by suggesting he could have warm feeling toward Eva, or anyone at all, fall flat. Supposedly Eva & Butcher met because he used to date this dancer who Eva knew. I see Butcher as being too brutish & vindictive to have anything like a normal human relationship. That bestiality is what makes him a great villain, an irresistible force that must somehow be resisted.
Eva is a baffling character in this movie. She seems to have been a late addition to the story that was meant to provide a mild love interest for Chasen (you know, there always has to be a love interest regardless of whether it makes sense) & tie some plot elements together. She really isn't integrated very well into the story, as evidenced by how often she's simply in the background observing what's going on.
Chasen is also banal as male lead. He has no interesting personality quirks, his history is unremarkable, & he doesn't do or say anything exciting. Dick Chasen dresses well & smokes a lot of cigarettes, & there's really nothing more to say about him. Compare that to Dick Tracy, who wears a bright yellow coat & hat, has a wristwatch that doubles as a radio, beats up crooks, & shoots them down with a machine gun. He's not a complex character, but unlike Chasen he's fun to watch.
In sum, this is an okay movie with a good villain but little else going for it.
Thanks for reading! So long for now.
[Editor Nate: Nicely done as always. "Dick Chasen"...tell me that's not the best gay porn star name ever.]
Written in July 2012 by Jason Scott and used with his permission.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...