Igneous Schlock

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THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE (1957) has a bit of interest and originality, even though it isn’t any good. There might be potential for a remake, if we made this kind of B-movie anymore.

The dialogue is atrocious (“Oh look, now, Tracy, you’re not going soft and spooky on me now, are you? I like you much better when you’re your hard-bitten old self.” “Just the same I’ll bet you a box of girl scout cookies that somebody died last night.”) and sadly it’s by Bernard Gordon, blacklistee — I presume his gig for poverty row producer Sam Katzman was brokered by Dalton Trumbo. But the story has some intrigue.

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Basically, the top staff at a girl’s reform home are all immortals from the eighteenth century, kept spry by regular treatments of mad science. Their procedure requires the sacrifice of a human victim, so naturally they’re preying on the inmates, knocking them off practically nightly according to what we see, which causes some consternation among the higher authorities, but not half as much as you’d expect.

Eric (Friedrich Von Ledibur) is now so old that the treatment is starting to fail, causing him to petrify, to look poorly made-up, and to have a pounding heartbeat audible from across the room. He’s also mute, hulking and (with an effort of imagination upon the viewer’s part) scary looking — stalwart Doc William Hudson sizes him up with the words, “Coarsened features — could be Mongoloid.” Well, nobody ever looked less like they had Downs’ Syndrome. And thank you so much for the crassness.

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Miscasting of this key lummox role robs most of the action of menace, but the lead nasty is played by Victor Jory, who brings conviction, understatement, and Dignity, Always Dignity to the part. Other decent thesps Paul Cavanaugh and Victor Varconi round out the rogue’s gallery, which also includes a woman, Anne Doran, who does too much eyebrow calisthenics but suggests a kind of cold dedication to Jory that’s sort of interesting.

The film actually works much better before Hudson takes over as boring hero — the young female staff member who first suspects jiggerpokery and her prisoner/trusty chum are ineptly written and performed but make more interesting, unconventional protagonists. The film’s sympathies are with the prisoners and you can, with only a few strained neurons, see the story as the kind of leftist parable commie screenwriters were accused of smuggling into pictures. Good for them, I say. It makes sci-fi hokum a bit more interesting. The trouble with this movie is it doesn’t have any arresting imagery to compliment the ideas — Laszlo Kardos’ direction is flat and grey, the mad science equipment doesn’t take any advantage of the possibilities implied by its supposed eighteenth century origins (An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump could provide all the visual ideas the movie needs) and the hulking behemoth is a skinny old guy with an unhealthy pallor. There’s a writing error too — this guy’s decline from sentience into zombiehood needed to be SHOWN, to give us the horror, rather than opening the film with him already subhuman. Oh well, better luck next time — as producer, Gordon would eventually give us the rather more successful HORROR EXPRESS.

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4 Responses to “Igneous Schlock”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    At first, when I read your title, I thought the film under discussion would be THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, a film with appeal for Lola Albright fans (right hand goes upward) and Jack Arnold fans but few others. I have dim memories of having seen MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE in the middle of the night, once upon a time, but nothing too specific. I will say, though, that writer Gordon’s name is also on Edward L. Cahn’s THE ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, a film with more liveliness than this MAN. Not only that, it also has Allison Hayes being beautiful and heartless.

  2. I’ve been meaning to see The Monolith Monsters for ages, just for its unusualness. I started watching once, but my copy proved to be defective (crystalline infection?).

    After seeing Laughter in Hell, I’m a Cahn convert, so am going to start catching up with his schlocky stuff as well as the classier ones.

  3. Your description of Friedrich von Ledibur’s character actually sounds like an inspiration for the Matron from SUSPIRIA (at least in the initial sequences when she’s just a silhouette whose breathing and heartbeat echo in the improvised dormitory. Wonder if Argento could have seen this at some point.

  4. It’s perfectly possible. That matron scene has a spookiness that TMWTTS can only dream of…

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