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Black Sleep, The

Film (1956; vt Dr Cadman's Secret). Bel-Air Productions/United Artists. Produced by Aubrey Schenck and Howard W Koch. Directed by Reginald Le Borg (as LeBorg). Written by John C Higgins from a story by Gerald Drayson Adams. Cast includes Patricia Blair (credited as Patricia Blake), Claire Carleton, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr, Peter Gordon, Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, Herbert Rudley, Phyllis Stanley, Akim Tamiroff and Sally Yarnell. Narrator: Rathbone. 82 minutes. Black and white.

In 1872 England, Dr Gordon Ramsay (Rudley) is about to hang for a murder he didn't commit. He is visited by the famous surgeon Sir Joel Cadman (Rathbone) who slips him a dose of the titular Drug, a powerful anaesthetic derived from a plant in India: this induces a death-like state of Suspended Animation. Claiming the "body" of Ramsay, Cadman has him taken to his castle in the English countryside. There Ramsay is revived and learns that Cadman needs his help in experimental brain surgery – mapping a way into the brain so that Cadman can remove a deep-seated tumour from his comatose wife. Having little choice but to agree, Dr Ramsay assists in the operations, gradually becoming aware that Cadman's obsession has become insanity. Cadman operates on living patients obtained by Udo (Tamiroff) and given the Black Sleep. Laurie Monroe (Blair) is an unwilling nurse in Cadman's employ, whose father Dr Monroe alias Mungo (Chaney) has been turned into a homicidal maniac by one such operation: Ramsay recognizes Monroe from his own medical college days. Casmir the mute butler (Lugosi) is also seemingly the result of another experiment. It develops that Cadman has a dungeon filled with the mutilated results of his surgery, all now grotesque Mutants. These inevitably escape at the climax and kill Cadman and his efficient, willing Nurse Daphne (Stanley), while Ramsay and Laurie escape by a narrow margin.

The Black Sleep can be seen as a "bridge" between old-style Hollywood Horror in SF films and the coming colour productions from Hammer Films. Chaney is largely wasted: his character has no dialogue owing to his difficulty in remembering lines, resulting from alcoholism. This is the last film Lugosi completed; his being mute apparently resulted from after-effects of shaking his long-time drug addictions a year or so before. The film was released in a double bill with The Creeping Unknown (1955). [GSt]


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 03:01 am on 22 May 2024.