Scientists experimenting with a serum to accelerate healing, operate on a dying young woman. She makes a miracle recovery but the cure has provided her with the ability to adapt to any physical trauma, making her close to immortal. Unfortunately, she is also a sociopath.
Curious mixture of film noir and science fiction as the lovely Mari Blanchard develops superhuman powers of survival and begins killing off rich husbands with no fear of the consequences. In probably the film’s most memorable scene, she robs Paul Cavanaugh in a dress store and then hides in a dressing room when the police arrive. Then she turns her hair from brunette to blonde in the flick of an eyelash, changes her clothes and leaves as the officers check her out for reasons not really connected with the robbery.
Blanchard’s character is given little backstory, other than she has been living rough, so we’re never quite sure whether her anti-social tendencies are a result of the serum or were present all along. Similarly, is her new found sexual magnetism a result of supreme confidence in herself or a side effect of the treatment? The script never resolves these issues and the ambiguity is a pleasant change from the ‘black and white’ tendencies of the period. Much of the film rests on Blanchard’s shoulders, of course, and she gives an adept and convincing performance. A particular highlight is the scene where she defends her actions to the hapless medicos but, almost as quickly, can’t be bothered to continue with the lie, just admits everything and challenges them to do something about it! Blanchard really delivers here; striking just the right note of contempt, boredom and weariness.
Unfortunately, things tend to drag a little when Blanchard is off screen as Jack Kelly and Albert Dekker (‘Dr. Cyclops’ (1940) himself!) trot out the usual scientific mumbo-jumbo and agonise about ‘meddling in things that man must leave alone.’ Also, the last third of the film is pretty disappointing as it betrays both a lack of budget and the usual tendency to tie things up neatly with a moral lesson, rather than push the story into more interesting areas.
The film was adapted from ‘The Adaptive Ultimate’, a short story by Stanley G Weinbaum, a science fiction author who died young and is almost forgotten today. Writer-Director Kurt Neumann had helmed some of the Weismuller ‘Tarzans’, as well as many other films in different genres, but showed a real affinity for science fiction. A year later, he delivered the original version of ‘The Fly’ (1958).
But this is Blanchard’s show all the way and in real life she was quite a girl. She battled back from polio at the age of 9 and ran away from home at 17 to join the circus in a trapeze act. She got a degree in international law from college, won swimming contests, became a successful model, was the basis for a character in the ‘Lil Abner’ comic strip, got married 3 times and acted opposite John Wayne, Audie Murphy and Victor Mature. She also fought cancer for 7 years before she succumbed at the age of 47 in 1970. It’s just a pity her acting career never really took off. If this project had displayed the courage of its convictions and had enjoyed the backing of a major studio then it could have done wonders for her.
As it is, this remains a highly entertaining and unusual ‘B’ picture; a pleasure to watch, even if you are left with a sense of unrealised potential.