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Man from Beyond, The

Entry updated 21 March 2022. Tagged: Film.

US silent film (1922). Houdini Picture Corporation. Directed by Burton L. King. Written by Harry Houdini and Coolidge Streeter. Cast includes Erwin Connelly, Jane Connelly, Harry Houdini, Arthur Maude, Frank Montgomery and Albert Tavernier. 75 minutes. Black and white.

Francois Duval (Montgomery), "half-breed soldier of fortune" and Dr Gregory Sinclair (E Connelly), possessing the "fanatical zeal of the true Scientist", are the sole survivors of an ill-fated Arctic expedition who discover a ship that's been trapped in the ice for a hundred years: on it they discover, within a lump of ice, "a figure stark and stiff within its icy tomb, its features frozen in a snarl of hate". They free him and start a fire: after rubbing his body, he awakens – as they expected he would (see Cryonics, Suspended Animation). He runs onto the ice, crying for his beloved "Felice" – Dr Sinclair observes "we may have brought him back to, what is for him, an empty world".

The man's name is Howard Hillary (Houdini); the trio return to civilization in time to witness the wedding of Dr Sinclair's niece, Felice (J Connelly). To Hillary she is his Felice, Dr Sinclair not having told him a century has passed, and he does not comprehend her denials. He is dragged off to an insane asylum – Dr Sinclair does not intervene, wishing to keep Hillary's situation a secret for now. The asylum secures Hillary in sheets, but he escapes and finds Felice, who tells him the date. She places her trust in Hillary, asking him to find her missing father, Professor Strange (Tavernier), suspecting her fiancee, Dr Trent (Maude), might be responsible: he agrees. Felice is later told by Dr Sinclair of an ancestor with her name who was lost at sea, adding there is a theory of Reincarnation where a soul that has not gained its heart's desire is drawn back to earth to work out its destiny (see Eschatology).

Hillary discovers Professor Strange has been held prisoner by Dr Trent for a year, to force him to sign over the deeds to his property – and he now plans to drug Felice, to marry her and gain her inheritance. There follows a clifftop fight, where Dr Trent falls to his doom, and the rescue of Felice, just before her canoe goes over Niagara Falls.

The film ends with Hillary showing Felice a copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualist work The New Revelation (1918), whilst Professor Strange and Dr Sinclair, though voicing personal scepticism, assert "the great teachers of Earth – Zoroatser down to Moses and Christ – those who made civilization possible – have taught the immortality and progression of the soul – REINCARNATION" (see Religion). We then see the spirit of past Felice walk into the body of modern Felice. Houdini and Doyle had fallen out because of their opposing views on spiritualism, and the film seems to be Houdini's olive branch to his friend: Doyle certainly liked it, though it was not commercially successful.

The film's plot and characters are Clichéd and ridiculous; despite being driven about in a car Hillary does not notice it is no longer 1820. The Niagara Falls sequence might have been quite exciting at the time, but as a whole the film commits the ultimate crime for a melodrama: it is dull. Though played by Houdini, Hillary performs only one bout of escapology (wisely, as film is not flattering to the art). Despite having three scientists, one of whom expresses a desire to see how a man frozen for a hundred years copes, the potential sf themes are left unexplored. [SP]


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