This lesser known Hammer production is the recent recipient of a new Blu-ray release courtesy of Kino Lorber. Previously available from Legend Films in a double feature Blu where it was paired with Freddie Francis's superb THE SKULL (another new Kino release), it's a bit of a strange misfire from the famous British horror studio. Not a bad film in the broadest sense, it just seems to be lacking is some respects as if all the participants both in front and behind the camera brought only their "B" game to the proceedings.
Like most Hammer productions it's interminably set bound, but missing the usual opulent set production that helped elevate their other films in spite of the somewhat meager budgets. Lacking any sort of sympathetic character it's oddly rather flat and lifeless and is hampered by a talky middle portion that slows the plot down.
With all that being said, it is a Terence Fisher Hammer Gothic with Christopher Lee and Hazel Court making it a worthy viewing experience with some excellent lighting effects (the green tinged lighting in certain sequences bring to mind Mario Bava's later work) and gruesome dead skin make-up effects, but there's a certain aura of "what if" hanging over the project - especially in the case of the lead.
Citing exhaustion Peter Cushing had dropped out of the film shortly before shooting was to commence and in his place the studio brought in German character actor Anton Diffring (CIRCUS OF HORRORS). An excellent actor with a cold aristocratic presence who specialized in evilly icy villains and Nazis, here he plays Dr. Georges Bonnet who is able to prolong his life indefinably (now at 104) by means of gland transplant taken from a living female "donor" every 10 years and by periodic sips from a green elixir he keeps hidden in a safe.
Living in Paris, he's also a talented sculptor and has reconnected with previous lover Janine Du Bois (the luminous Hazel Court from THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) after unveiling an older sculpture of her which puts him into conflict with her current suitor Dr. Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee). Coming up on the due date for his new operation Bonnet awaits the arrival of his longtime surgeon & friend Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN). However upon arriving Weiss confesses that he's to old and infirm to conduct the surgery which necessitates Bonnett looking for a new surgeon in the form of Christopher Lee's character and perhaps having his past history of a trail of murdered women uncovered.
In the lead role Diffring brings the right amount of evilness boarding on madness to the role but lakes the pathos that perhaps Cushing would have brought to the character. There's a great deal talk about the ramifications of immortality and outliving your peers and although Diffring plays his role superbly he does can't bring a touch of humanity to it and although Lee and Court do their best (ably assisted by the wonderful Francis De Wolff as a police inspector) but their roles are both cold with Court in particular dealing with a what his a bitchy type character in what should be the sympathetic heroine.
Co-produced by Paramount it was based upon their 1945 film THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (which in turn was based up on a play by Barre Lyndon) and the script by Jimmy Sangster could have used some more Hammer atmosphere about it which in turn may have inspired Terence Fisher a bit more. The 1975 TV film THE NIGHT STRANGLER uses some of the same plot points.
The new blu-ray by Kino is a fine looking presentation of the film with a 1.66 transfer and after the murky looking opening credits the disc has strong colors and sharp details through the remainder. It also includes a commentary by film historian Troy Howarth and interviews with Hammer scholars Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby.
Hazel Court filmed a topless scene for the "continental" market which has yet to appear on home video (although stills have surfaced) and Diffring appeared in an unsold TV pilot titled TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1958 which was to be an ongoing series based upon the Frankenstein legends wan was to be co-produced by Hammer and Columbia Studios.