The Man They Couldn't Hang

"He's got a strange way o' holdin his neck, stiff-like an' twisted, like he bin hanged, on'y the hangin didn't take."
Mule Jesse, in the Kung Fu episode "The Nature of Evil"

A character who has survived a hanging. They will frequently sport a scarred or deformed neck as a result. This may just indicate that he is a real hard case and too tough to kill easily, or it may be used to show what a bad life he has led and to explain his hatred of the world. A Bungled Suicide may also be involved.

If he survived three attempts, a sporting (or superstitious) executioner may have let him go. Probably because it's best to keep on the good side of a Badass like that.

Shoot the Rope may be used to explain their survival.


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  • Devil Rebirth from Fist of the North Star. He had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment because Villainy Prison didn't have anything, including rope, capable of killing him. He later meets Death By Kenshiro, but survives just long enough to take Jackal, the scumbag who lied to him to get him to fight Kenshiro, with him.
    • The spinoff Ten no Haoh revealed that Uighur used to be a prisoner of Cassandra who survived five death sentences. He fought Raoh, who ended up making Uighur the new warden of Cassandra because of his ambition and strength.

    Comic Books 
  • Lady Deathstrike was hanged from a telephone wire by Nazi soldiers during the Spanish Civil War in a Time Travel related Wolverine storyline. Rather than dying, as one might expect, she flexed her neck to massive proportions, bursting the wires, and proceeded to kill the soldiers' tank...
  • Nemesis the Warlock once crashed on Earth and group of alien-hating villagers decided the best way to kill him is by hanging. Three days pass before they realize he is still alive, after every person who wronged him met Karmic Death.
  • The EC Comics story "Jury Duty!" (Crime SuspenStories #6) is centered around a man whose "neck was broken, but the spinal cord wasn't severed!" And using the fact that he was declared legally dead as an odd sort of diplomatic immunity to murder the jurors. His downfall came when the remaining jurors realized that since he was legally dead, it's not a crime to bury him.
  • Played for laughs in a Sturmtruppen strip featuring a man too tall to be hanged by normal means, much to the soldiers' dismay.
  • This is the origin of John Henry in DC: The New Frontier: He survived and went after the lynch mob who killed his family.
  • The Nightwing villain Torque is a grotesque variation of this. His neck was broken when Blockbuster twisted his head 180 degrees, but he survived with a cybernetic neck brace and a backwards head.
  • In Death Of The Family, when Harley Quinn tries to point out to Joker that a girl always has a secret or two, he gets a noose made of chains around her neck and starts pulling, saying that she should "hang" around and tell him a few secrets. She survives this.
  • Played with in Astro City. The supernatural hero The Hanged Man is a spectre with a burlap sack on his head and the remnants of a hangman's noose around his neck, and is implied to be the victim of a hanging several centuries ago. Whether or not he currently counts as alive is another matter...

  • Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Hang 'Em High, an innocent victim of vigilante justice who seeks revenge on those who strung him up and left him for dead.
  • Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds has an unexplained rope scar around his neck, suggesting that this trope is somewhere in his backstory. In the part of the country he's from, at the time this movie takes place, didn't take a whole lot.
  • Lord Blackwood in 2009 Sherlock Holmes lives through hanging the first time. Though it turns out that he didn't survive through any sort of toughness or special powers, but because his execution was staged; a hook hidden in the noose and a torso rig diverted the weight of his body away from his neck and onto the torso brace. A few feigned twitches and a drug-induced death-like coma completed the illusion.
  • He doesn't have a scar, but Captain Jack Sparrow fits this trope by the end of the first film.
  • In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, it's revealed that Tony has been hanged several times, most likely for the various crimes he's committed (including dealings with the mob and selling children's organs on the black market). He survives through a trick in which he swallows a small metal flute, which prevents his throat from being crushed. He ultimately dies when Parnassus swaps the flute with a fake, breakable one.
  • The eponymous villain in Madman survived being hanged by angry villagers who tried to punish him for killing his family, and now carries the noose as his secondary weapon.
  • Richard O'Connell is hanged in The Mummy. His neck is strong enough that it doesn't break, and Evelyn negotiates his release before he strangles to death. Brendan Fraser himself fits this trope. He was actually being hanged in that scene due to a prop failure.
  • Boris Karloff starred as Dr. Henryk Savaard, who is executed but brought back to life in a 1939 Columbia Pictures thriller titled (you guessed it), The Man They Could Not Hang. Although in this movie, he really does die, and is brought back to life with science... he had it all planned out ahead of time though.
  • Freddie attempts to dispose of Michael Myers by hanging him in Halloween: Resurrection. Needless to say, it doesn't work. Michael acts as though being thrown out of a window and hanged was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in The Good The Bad And The Ugly, where the Bandito Tuco survives being hanged at least three times.
  • Friday the 13th
    • After the Final Girl Chris manages to knock Jason out in Friday the 13th Part III, shes tries kill him by putting a noose around his neck and dropping him from the barn's second floor. This doesn't work, and she has to give him the axe.
    • In Jason X, it is mentioned how officials tried to execute Jason multiple times, which includes a hanging, before settling for cryogenic imprisonment.
  • In Back to the Future Part III, Marty McFly survives Buford Tannen and his gang attempting to hang him because Doc Brown shoots out the rope. Like Brendan Fraser mentioned above, Michael J. Fox really got hanged during one take when his hand slipped, before resuscitated by a crewmember.
  • In Cary Grant vehicle People Will Talk this is Mr. Shunderson's backstory. Dr. Praetorius saved his life, after he had been successfully hanged and slabbed. In a horror movie this would have implications, but this is a comedy... still, Mr. Shunderson does come off as fairly unearthly.
  • In Excalibur, Morgana, Mordred, and their minions capture Sir Percival and hang him from a tree where several other knights have already been hanged. Percival hangs from the tree for several hours in agony until his rope is accidentally cut by a hanged knight's spurs.
  • In Night Creatures, Peter Cushing's kindly vicar is actually a retired pirate thought to have been hanged, complete with scar. It's implied that his right-hand man, Mr. Mipps, was the hangman and made sure he was in no real danger.
  • In Machete Kills, Machete gets hanged by a racist sheriff near the beginning. To the sheriff's amazement, other than being unable to free himself, Machete is unaffected. Machete gives him a Death Glare until he is released.
  • Attempted by Yankee Jim in The Haunting Of Whaley House, as he did in real life. However, his method of doing so just guaranteed a slow death by strangulation instead of a quick one by his neck breaking.

  • Mat in The Wheel of Time series has a scarred neck from a survived hanging, which he carefully conceals. Mat's hanging from the tree of life is another part of his intentional similarity to the Norse god Odin.
  • The Hanged Man from The Black Company. Survived due to being an incredibly powerful wizard.
  • The thoroughly nasty Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill from Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels. And, on the other side of the moral divide, Thomas of Hookton from the same author's The Grail Quest novels.
  • In one of the war novels by Sven Hassel, Porta tells the story of a sailor who can't be hanged because he virtually has no neck. In the end the hangman goes insane with frustration and demonstrates that his rope works perfectly on himself.
  • Half Cocked Jack of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle survives a hanging by being pulled down by an angry mob. Although the experience did leave him with a wicked crick in the neck.
  • And, as Skeeve learned in the Myth Adventures series by Robert Asprin, never try to hang a Pervect by the neck. They've tried to hang Skeeve too, but being a wizard, he just levitated. Aahz is a wizard as well, but he was depowered at the time, so he survived because Pervects have extremely strong neck muscles.
  • The head of the Thieves' Guild in Dragons of Summer Flame is a man named Lynched Geoffery (or just Lynch), so called because he was lynched and lived to tell about it (just don't ask to see his neck if you value life or limb). Also subverted later in the same book- he antagonizes the Evil Overlord in a misguided attempt to get an alliance, and the response is two words- "Hang him." This hanging goes rather well- after all, Lynch already had practice!
  • Pangloss from Candide, who survived hanging by the Inqusition. It's not sure it was for the better.
  • Roger in the Outlander series.
  • Discworld's Moist von Lipwig is a subversion - Vetinari deliberately has him publicly hanged "to within half an inch of his life" to fake his death so that he can keep Moist on as a Boxed Crook.
  • You can hang a Hoka, but it won't hurt him (they have unusually strong neck muscles), and he'll consider it all part of whatever fiction is currently being lived out.
  • Juliette, from the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, is an unusually young example; she's only thirteen. It's implied she'd attempted to hang herself, but not only did she not do it properly, the Doctor showed up to rescue her.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire one of Beric Dondarrion's numerous rumored deaths is being hanged. As it turns out, he was, and died. He just came back after.
  • Sharpe's nemesis Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill survived a hanging, and claimed that this meant that God had chosen him to be spared and therefore he couldn't be killed. The firing squad proved him wrong on that count later on, though.
  • The young adult novel Newes Of The Dead, based on a real account of a young woman sentenced to death for killing her child (it was stillborn, but they assumed she did it)who survived.
  • Arenadd from the Fallen Moon series counts. Granted, he was killed, but he did come back to life. While his mortal enemy was standing over his body glad for his death.
  • Lloyd Shepherd's The English Monster; Or, the Melancholy Transactions of William Ablass opens with the title character, hanged for piracy and murder, wondering why another man is carrying on a Dead Person Conversation with him. The rest of the novel explains why Ablass is apparently immortal.
  • In Jean Zimmerman's The Orphanmaster, the female protagonist's servant, Antony Angola, survived hanging because no rope was strong enough to hold him.
  • The Big Bad in Portlandtown is an outlaw known only as The Hanged Man. He survived being hanged because the lynch mob didn't include anyone who knew how to do it right and he got away before the actual law could take him into custody again.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Reynard has this reputation due to a double being hanged in his place.
  • Sheriff Jon Highfather from The Six Gun Tarot was hanged three times at the end of the Civil war, none of which worked. He believes that neither that nor anything else can kill him as it's not his time yet.

    Live Action TV 
  • An Angel flashback episode dealt with Angel attempting to get rid of a demon in the Hyperion (the hotel he now owns) that manipulates people's emotions causing them to kill each other. Unfortunately, the angry hotel guests target him and hang him from the chandelier. Vampires cannot die this way, and Angel plays dead. After they leave the lobby, he cuts himself down and gives a big fuck you to the guests, telling the demon he can have them.
  • Played for Laughs with Ralph Filthy in one episode of Filthy Rich & Catflap.
  • Jack the Ripper has this attribute when he appears on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Electrocution works pretty well, however.
  • The killer in the Kung Fu episode, mentioned above.
  • Charlie, on LOST, managed to (barely) survive a hanging, but that might have been the cause of his demise in Season 3.
  • Murdoch Mysteries had this as a key element of an episode as the detectives are trying to figure out how a convict survived his hanging and then escaped. The hangman was an expert who used detailed anatomical charts and precise calculations to make sure nothing like that ever happened. The condemned man was innocent and the hangman knew exactly how to sabotage things so an innocent man would not be hanged on his watch again.
  • Krane, the eponymous villain of the Queen of Swords episode "The Hanged Man".
  • Forever Knight had this happen with Nick once, though being a vampire, he lived.
  • Highlander ditto with one or two immortals...'Leader of The Pack' for one ep.
  • Part of Bob Rebadow's backstory in Oz. He was originally sent to Oswald State Penitentiary in the 1960's to be executed in the electric chair for murder, but the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 coincidentally caused a power surge right at the moment when his executioner threw the switch, and he survived. Even more luckily, the death penalty was abolished in New York State while he was in Oz's medical unit recovering from injuries sustained during the botched execution.
  • In Moonlight it's shown that the French Revolutionaries figured out the aristocracy were vampires when they tried hanging one, and failed. Hence the guillotine.
  • Supernatural has a man survive being hanged for killing one of the men who raped and murdered his wife because he's a phoenix. Dean kills him with the Colt in a Showdown at High Noon.

  • Celtic rock band The Men They Couldn't Hang take their name from this trope, with the added bonus of sounding very anti-establishment.
  • Referenced in the lyrics of The Tragically Hip's song Bobcaygeon:
    That night in Toronto with its checkerboard floors
    Riding on horseback and keeping order restored
    Till the men they couldn't hang
    Stepped to the mike and sang
    And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
    • This is a reference to the aforementioned band.
  • The Fairport Convention's Concept Album Babbacombe is based on the life of Real Life example John "Babbacombe" Lee.
    They stand me in a corner with my hands and feet still tied
    A warder holds onto the noose, the trapdoor opens wide
    Is it magic or coincidence that keeps me on the brink?
    It seems to work without me, "Will it kill me now?" I think
    My life was spared that morning 'cos it wasn't theirs to take
    Three's the most the law requires a man to feel the stake.

  • On The Goon Show, Neddie Seagoon was sentenced to hang by a Kangaroo Court but they were forced to relent on realising he hadn't actually got a neck.
  • Bleak Expectations: Harry Biscuit survives being hanged, by dint of being incredibly overweight. He would have died, but since the judge who ordered the hanging was watching, and eating some cheese, and Harry manages to gain weight just by looking at cheese...

    Video Game 
  • Black Isle's vaporware'd Fallout 3:
    • Was going to include the companion NPC The Hanged Man, a badass of such legendary stature having him in your party would make people react much the same as if you had the Child Killer 'perk'. You can guess how the trope applies to him.
    • Incidentally, he's mentioned in Fallout: New Vegas. As the former lieutenant of Big Bad Caesar, he was set on fire and thrown into the grand canyon in a truly epic example of You Have Failed Me. Caesar clearly heard that hanging didn't work. Unfortunately, his reputation as the ultimate Implacable Man means there are still rumours that he's walking around somewhere - this time with the moniker The Burned Man.
    • He finally appears in the DLC, Honest Hearts. He's also...slightly miffed about the whole 'being covered in pitch and thrown in the Grand Canyon whilst aflame' thing. However, he's also The Atoner and for the most part a polite and well-mannered individual who honestly wants to protect the innocent, albeit in his own way. In said DLC, to reflect his truly insanely hard to kill nature, he has an Endurance stat of 10, and the highest DT of any creature in the game at 50, placing him on higher damage threshold than most armor piercing rounds can penetrate. Additionally, he's one of two NPCs in the game with a unique "title" in the GECK - Destroying Angel.
  • In the game Conkers Bad Fur Day, Franky the Pitchfork is Driven to Suicide by his heckling companions the paint pot and the paint brush after failing to kick Conker's ass. When he decides to hang himself, he fails because he "does not appear to have a neck of any description", and remains stuck hanging from the barnyard ceiling until Conker cuts him down.
  • Then there's Morshu.
  • Mr. Black's assistant Mr. Lynch in Red Dead Revolver survived being hanged. It shows, as he has hard time keeping his neck straight during his pre-duel scene.
  • According to the sparse back-story for Quake 3 character Cadaver "is a brutal murderer who couldn’t be executed, The electric chair, gallows, and gas chamber only made him meaner"
  • The protagonist of Red Ninja, Kurenai, is hanged by her neck using iron wire with her hands tied behind her back, but her small stature combined with watching her father getting killed right in front of her gives her enough Heroic Willpower to survive.

    Web Comic 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in a Ren and Stimpy episode, where they are hanged for horse stealing. Ren just blows in the wind, and Stimpy has no neck.

    Real Life 
  • Western legend Roy Bean was a Real Life case of this, making it Truth in Television.
  • Also the eighteenth-century Margaret Dickson, who was pardoned and ever after known as "Half-Hangit Maggie".
  • One tale tells of a buccaneer who was hanged, scared the crowd away by yelling at them, chewed through the rope, and escaped.
  • In real life, on the other hand, most "hanging" sentences are more specifically enunciated as "hanged until dead". Even if being hanged doesn't snap the victim's neck, staying there for a while would almost definitely suffocate anyone. It's more slow and painful but it would get the job done. This is intended to ensure the demise of a would-be Rules Lawyer.
  • There was allegedly a time in America where surviving three attempted executions of any kind was considered an act of God, and you were given a life sentence instead, if not set free.
  • This was also the case in Britain, and happened to John "Babbacome" Lee in 1884. Given a life sentence, he was eventually released in 1907, when the Home Secretary was persuaded that the case against him had not been conclusive.
  • And Joseph Samuel in Australia, who was granted a full pardon on the spot.
  • In Imperial Russia one failed execution (e.g. due to gallows falling apart or guns misfiring) was enough to change the sentence to penal servitude or even release the convict. Only rarely, as with the Decembrists, the tsar ordered to repeat the hanging. Unofficially the tradition continued well into the Soviet times.
    • Legend has it that the Decembrist leader made some wisecrack to the effect that the czarist regime was too incompetent even to pull off a simple hanging, and the Czar decided to prove him wrong.
  • Stuntmen can prevent the noose from tightening with an invisible knot. This allows them to hang for a while and stay alive. This stunt is very dangerous as it's easy to snap the neck, the preferred method is a harness under the clothes and a fake noose on the neck.

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