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Film / The Man Who Could Cheat Death

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The Man Who Could Cheat Death is a 1959 Hammer Horror film, directed by Terence Fisher and starring Anton Diffring and Christopher Lee. Jimmy Sangster adapted the screenplay from the play The Man in Half Moon Street by Barré Lyndon, which had been previously filmed in 1945.

In Paris during 1890, 104-year-old Georges Bonnet (Diffring) is a sculptor who maintains a youthful appearance by regularly committing murder and using his victims’ parathyroid glands as an elixir to ward off the signs of age. When Bonnet requires a vital surgery to be undertaken he asks his old colleague Prof. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé) to perform it. He declines and Bonnet then blackmails Pierre Gerard (Lee) into performing the operation by endangering the life of Janine Dubois (Hazel Court), a young lady in whom both Bonnet and Gerard are romantically interested.


Tropes in The Man Who Could Cheat Death include:

  • Acid Attack: When Bonnet's elixir starts to wear off, his touch becomes acidic. He hideously scars Margo when he claps his hand over her mouth in attempt to shut her up.
  • Career-Ending Injury. Surgeon Professor Weiss has suffered a stroke that paralyzes his right hand. The infirmity means that he cannot perform the operation that Bonnet requires, and he attempts to press Gerard into operating instead.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Bonnet picks up a prostitute in a waterfront dive and murders her to extract the gland he needs for his transplant.
  • Elixir of Life: Georges Bonnet is maintaining his eternal youth by having his parathyroid glands replaced every ten years. If the transplant is delayed for some reason, he can keep his youth by drinking an elixir made from the gland; usually harvested from unwilling victims
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  • Exact Time to Failure: For his eternal youth to continue, Dr. Bonnet has to receive a transplant of parathyroid glands every ten years exactly. If he misses this deadline, he can extend his youth for up to four weeks by drinking a special elixir. Exactly four weeks. When he is blackmailing Dr. Gerrard into performing the transplant, he says that he has exactly 6 hours left, which is later proven to be true. Exactly why a biological and surgical process would have such a fixed lime limit is never explained.
  • Human Resources: Dr. Bonnet runs a private clinic catering to an exclusive clientele. As part of his arrangements with his patients, they grant him permission to harvest their parathyroid glands after their deaths, although they do not know that he plans to have the glands transplanted into him. It is because of this arrangement that he is able to convince Dr. Gerrard that the operation is neither illegal or unethical. However, when delays mean that he has no suitable glands on hand, he resorts to cruder methods of Organ Theft to obtain them.
  • Ideal Illness Immunity: Dr. Bonnet explains to Dr. Gerrard that ever since he had the first transplant that granted him eternal youth, he has never been sick, never had a headache or a toothache, or even a blemish on his skin. And so long as he has a transplant every ten years, he never will.
  • I Have Your Wife: Bonnet imprisons Janine and holds her hostage to compel Gerrard into operating on him.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Margo goes mad after Bonnet hideously scars her with his acidic touch, and Bonnet locks her in a cell in his cellar. Placing a bust of her unscarred beautiful face in the cell with her is an unnecessary twisting of the knife.
  • Man on Fire: The rapidly aging Dr. Bonnet is set on fire when Madwoman in the Attic Margo throws an oil lantern at him.
  • Non-Protagonist Resolver: The plot is ultimately resolved when Margo, the Madwoman in the Attic, hurls a lantern at the rapidly aging Dr. Bonnet: turning him into a Man on Fire and setting the rest of the cellar ablaze. Gerard, Janine and Inspector Legris are forced to flee, leaving Bonnet and Margo to perish in the flames.
  • Organ Theft: Dr. Georges Bonnet has taking to attacking people in the street and extracting the glands he needs to manufacture his elixir.
  • Poisonous Person: When Dr. Bonnet's life-extending elixir starts to wear off, his touch becomes acidic.
  • Public Exposure: At Dr. Bonnet's reception, one of the guests is looking for more of Bonnet's sculptures and pulls the cloth off one to reveal a naked bust and torso of Janine Dubois. He comments on how beautiful the model must have been to the woman standing next to him before realising that she is the model. He hurriedly covers the piece up again.
  • Rapid Aging: Dr. Bonnet requires a transplant of parathyroid glands every ten years to maintain his youth. If he misses the deadline, he can extend the time by up to four weeks by drinking a special elixir. However, if he still hasn't received the transplant after four weeks, his entire 104 years will catch up with him. No prizes for guessing what happens at the end of the film.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Gerrard estimates Bonnet's age as being around 35. He is actually 104, having extended his youth by means of the transplants and his elixir.