“I shall show you strange things about the mind of man.”
Boris Karloff is The Man Who Changed His Mind (aka The Man Who Lived Again, 1936), and not only changed his own but also the minds of several other people, and I do mean literally. Karloff plays the mad Dr. Laurience, an outcast notorious for his weird experiments on monkeys, isolated in a decrepit manor where his only companion is the bitter wheelchair-bound Donald Calthrop. Anna Lee plays a bright young doctor off to assist Karloff, much to the chagrin, and against the warnings of her colleagues as well as her fiance John Loder. But, independent career woman that she is, off she goes, and so does Loder, who follows to keep an eye on his girl and to write an article on the mysterious quack for his father’s newspaper. However, instead of an investigation or an expose, Loder’s father (Frank Cellier) sees profit, subscribers, celebrity. He sponsors Karloff, hypes him as a genius and a wonder doctor, sets him up in a luxury lab and snags exclusive rights to cover all his experiments in his newspaper–the reality show of its day.
He’ll rue that decision, because as Karloff shows Lee, he’s developed the ability to transfer minds from one chimp’s body to another, and plans to try it on humans. Imagine switching memory, personality, the soul, to a new, much younger body, says Karloff; why, it’s the key to immortality. Karloff’s thinking horrifies Lee and alienates Cellier, and soon Karloff proves his theory valid by switching the minds of Cellier and Calthrop but soon things go awry. Karloff then switches minds with Loder, which leaves Lee and her knowledge of the switcheroo contraption to set everything right.
The Man Who Changed His Mind is loads of fun, a fast moving, visually impressive, suspenseful movie with several engaging performances and all likable actors. Karloff impresses as the proud and daring thinker who is deeply humiliated by the mockery of his peers. He chain smokes and paces and scowls and is a pleasure to watch during eureka moments, defiance or tragedy. He screams at doubting doctors, strangles his greedy friend and maniacally ogles Lee, and then Loder, when he decides to use his body. The switches give four actors the opportunity to imitate each other’s movements and mannerisms, which is fun to watch. It’s done best by Cellier when he plays the cripple transplanted to a new body; he has a grand time with the wealth and power while trying not to arouse the suspicions of the board of directors, his secretary/mistress, and son.
Robert Stevenson directed movies ranging from crime stories to Jane Eyre (1943) to Mary Poppins (1964) and many other Disney live-action pictures, and he gives this one energy and style. The mind vacuum/transfer machine is a telephone switchboard with springs, knobs and wired helmets, and it all looks and sounds convincing enough in Karloff’s manor; you can just imagine how fancy the fully-funded and high-powered setup gets, with backlit booths, recliners and even bigger and shinier knobs! The lecture hall scene where Karloff is made into a laughing stock is claustrophobic and intimidating thanks to an impossibly steep gallery. Everything spins when Karloff loses his mind during Cellier’s withering rejection, and the camera turns around Lee at one moment of horror. In fact the camera constantly moves, sits at unusual angles, and often uses first-person perspective, all effects that spice up shots and propel the movie’s already brisk pace.
Anne Lee was married to director Robert Stevenson at the time, and entertained Karloff and his wife during their stay in England for this film and the next one the actor did there, Juggernaut (1936). In Gregory Mank’s book Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, Lee said she and “dear” Boris bonded over their dislike of the smelly chimps and over a common and extensive knowledge of poetry. She could quote a first line, Karloff would recite the next, and they’d keep up the volley well into long works before drawing blanks. The always elegant and poised Lee does well as the professional who laughs off doubts about a woman’s ability in the field, and she’s curious about Karloff’s work, but a skeptic at heart and not gullible enough to be swayed by his arrogance once he begins toying with human souls. She also plays nicely off Loder’s unsinkable positivity and playful charm, and she gets to be the hero and saves Loder’s life when he’s minutes away from dying while stuck in Karloff’s body.
The Man Who Changed His Mind was co-written by John Balderston with Sidney Gilliat. Balderston wrote the source play for Dracula (1931), co-wrote Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), to name just a few of his horror essentials, while Gilliat was a frequent Hitchcock collaborator and co-writer of The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940). With that kind of talent involved it’s little wonder that The Man Who Changed His Mind comes out such a nice-looking, enjoyably suspenseful ride featuring a great mad doctor.