Six Hours to Live (1932)

Article #1089 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2004
Posting Date: 8-5-2004
Directed by William Dieterle
Featuring Warner Baxter, Miriam Jordan, John Boles

When a representative of the country of Sylvaria becomes the sole dissenting voice in the adoption of an economic treaty, he is targeted for murder by his foes. When he is murdered by strangulation, he is brought back to life by a scientist testing a new machine, but he discovers that he will only live for six more hours.

For some reason, I like reviewing a movie that lends itself to comparison with several other movies, and this one does; it exists at that point where the movies D.O.A, THE WALKING DEAD and CHARLY meet. The idea of a man tracking down his own murderer while suffering under a time constraint dictated by his own mortality is certainly similar to D.O.A., though this movie throws in a science fiction angle that movie does not have. Like THE WALKING DEAD, our protagonist returns to life with knowledge he did not possess at the time of his death. In some ways, however, the similarities to CHARLY are the most striking because of the surface differences in the plot; for one thing, this movie is more drama then melodrama, and it’s also another movie in which a man undergoes a medical experiment and finds his life bound inextricably with that of the test animal that also underwent the experiment (in CHARLY it was a white mouse, here it is a white rabbit). The fact that this movie predates the other three signifies that if any of these works were influenced by the others, it’s they that would have been influenced by this one.

On its own terms, this movie is a standout. It has an excellent script in which practically every character has greater depth and dimension than you might imagine and dialogue that always sounds fresh and real. It also has top-notch performances by everyone, though special notice should go to Warner Baxter as the man brought back to life. Furthermore, it has exemplary direction by William Dieterle; I can somewhat tell that this movie was brought to us by the same man who gave us the 1939 version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, because it has some of that some visual flair. I love the subtle portrayals of some of the characters; in particular I like the way that the Professor’s big hulking deaf-mute assistant is not portrayed as a monster (though some people definitely react to him with fear), and the character of the butler, who tries to give the protaganist two very different items at two separate points in the story (his item is rejected both times, but one of them is eventually kept). Like DRACULA, this movie has no musical soundtrack; unlike that movie, I find the drama so breathtakingly powerful at every point of the story that I never once feel like nodding off. In my opinion, this science fiction drama with mystical overtones should be recognized for the classic it is rather than to lie forgotten in the mists of cinema history. This one is worth tracking down and checking out.


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