Little known fact: Boris Karloff sang "Que Sera Sera" in this movie, no matter how much Judge Mark Van Hook denies it.
Boris Karloff does horror like only he can!
Depending on who you ask, Frankenstein may have been either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to Boris Karloff. After starring in James Whale's horror masterpiece, he achieved instant stardom, and would be forever linked with The Monster in the minds of audiences. His stardom came at a price. For although the film and its subsequent sequels would make him an icon, they also linked him inextricably to the horror genre, and pretty much ruined him for any other type of film. After Frankenstein, the gentle, soft-spoken Karloff would star in horror films, and precious little else.
The Man Who Changed His Mind is one of a handful of films Karloff made in Britain directly following his second turn as The Monster in Bride of Frankenstein. It's a minor but grandly entertaining old school, mad scientist picture that gives the actor a chance to stretch his acting muscles in a few interesting ways. In it, he plays the reclusive Dr. Laurience, a brilliant brain scientist who has made a startling discovery—he's learned how to transplant the "thought content" (i.e. thoughts, mannerisms, and personality) of one being into the body of another, and vice versa. To help in his experiments, he recruits a former student, Dr. Clare Wyatt (Anna Lee, How Green Was My Valley), another brilliant scientist who shares his passion for the work, if not his lack of ethical reasoning.
Dr. Laurience is visited by a wealthy entrepreneur, Lord Haslewood (Frank Cellier, The 39 Steps), who makes him a proposition: he will fund all of the doctor's experiments, if he will agree to publish his results exclusively in Haslewood's newspapers. The promise of unlimited resources is too much for Laurience, and he agrees. When it comes time to share his work with the London-based scientific community, the doctor is laughed at and ridiculed, which sends him plunging into madness, and leads him to concoct a dastardly plan which will help him achieve immortality, a plan which results, among other things, in murder.
The Man Who Changed His Mind is rife with delicious performances, with a few notable standouts. Donald Calthrop, for one, is gleefully evil as Laurience's wheelchair-bound assistant, Clayton, whose severe brain damage gives him a disregard for morality, to disastrous effect. Frank Cellier has a bang-up dual role, first as the pompous Lord Haslewood, and eventually taking the personality of the aforementioned Clayton. Cellier is particularly good at imitating Calthrop's mannerisms and wicked sense of humor, and his reaction to his newfound ability to walk is hilariously dealt with ("an overrated occupation," he calls it).
The film belongs to Karloff, and he appears to be right at home playing the mad doctor. The degradation of Laurience's psyche doesn't occur until around the halfway point of the film. Until then, Karloff plays him as a man dedicated to his profession, even if that means pushing the ethical boundaries of science. When Laurience finally does go off the deep end, his transformation is complete. His ethical flexibility soon turns into murderous rage, as he decides to turn his experiments toward human beings. Here Karloff gets to let loose, and clearly relishes his opportunity to play on the other side of the Frankenstein scenario. It makes one think that had he not been cast as The Monster in those earlier pictures, he might have made a great Dr. Frankenstein instead.
At only 65 minutes in length, The Man Who Changed His Mind moves at a clip, never becoming stodgy or boring. The production design has a wonderfully dated look, as the scientist's laboratory is cluttered with what is obviously fake machinery (check out those heart monitors) that gives it a wonderful B-movie sensibility. It's a purely entertaining film that skirts the edge of camp and occasionally dives right over.
The DVD release, distributed by Shanachie, can only be described as adequate. Released under the "British Cinema Collection" label, the video transfer, presented in full-frame, is surprisingly good. Very little wear and tear is noticeable, with the occasional vertical scratch and speckles of debris popping up here and there. The only problem with the transfer is some blurring that appears to be the result of the conversion from PAL (Region 2) to the NTSC (Region 1) format, a la Warner's Chaplin Collection discs. It never distracts from one's enjoyment of the film, but it is noticeable.
The audio, I'm afraid, doesn't fare nearly as well as the video. Presented in mono, there is obvious hissing throughout, and though the dialogue is perfectly audible, the hissing can be awfully distracting. I wish some restoration work had been done on the track, but for a budget release like this, I guess I shouldn't have expected much. No subtitles are included, nor are there extras of any kind, which is a real shame.
Despite my reservations about the technical aspects of the disc, I would certainly recommend checking out the film, as a terrific example of low-budget '30s horror done right. This will likely be a revelation for those who know Boris Karloff only from his work as Frankenstein's monster.
Acquitted on all counts. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
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