Director: Terence Fisher
In a quaint little village where “nothing ever happens,” Doc Harvey (James Hayter) tells us the story of the three little playmates he met one day. Even as children, Bill and Robin were vying for Lena’s attention, even when they were pretending to be knights fighting for her hand, Robin was the confident victor and Bill the loser who took it badly. Doc took the abused and orphaned Bill under his wing, guiding him through his wild, impetuous adolescence and nurturing his brilliant mind until the budding young genius went off to study science at Cambridge. Years pass and the adult Lena (Barbara Payton) returns from America a weary, cynical failure whose life plan is to spend her inheritance and then commit suicide. Her outlook improves when she reunites with Robin (John Van Eyssen) and Bill (Stephen Murray), also back in town and hard at work on their mysterious science project.
Their contraption is the Reproducer, a.k.a. the Duplicator. It consists of two domed pods that look like tanning beds, connected to an array of consoles with knobs, switches, meters and dials. After a flash of light and a tremendous zap, there appears in the second pod an exact replica of any item placed in the first. The immense potential of this gadget boggles their minds and they consider all the artwork, the rare drugs, gold and rubies and many other good things they could make reproduce. However, as Robin’s father Sir Walter warns, it can also make copies of atom bombs and therefore needs to be regulated by the government.
Before Bill can tell Lena how much he adores her, she and Robin get engaged, and before he can use the Reproducer for the benefit of all mankind as he intended, Sir Walter takes control of the project. Faced with these double personal losses, Bill becomes obsessed with duplicating Lena for himself.
Unbelievably, when Bill shares his crazy plan with Doc and Lena, they show a bit of reluctance but are willing to help Bill create this twin. Bill marries the clone named Helen, but on their honeymoon discovers Helen doesn’t love him. She has Lena’s memories, her love for Robin, and her suicidal urge. After Helen promises to kill herself, Bill tries a mind-wipe and reprogramming which fails disastrously.
This first of Hammer’s science fiction movies was based on a novel by William F. Temple and co-written for the screen by Paul Tabori. It’s short and goes fast thanks in part to Doc’s narration as well as montages that telescope the passing years and track the development of both the Reproducer and the trio’s relationships. Doc warns against hubris with, “there’s less danger in the things we fear than the things we desire,” and Lena has the line, “I didn’t ask to be born so I have the right to die,” repeated by Helen who sees no reason to exist if she can’t love her creator, and the man she does love is already taken–by her original self. The acting is a bit dull and I felt that more time could have been spent on, and drama wrung from, the ethical issues about cloning, and the existence of two Lenas, but even so, this was an interesting unrequited love variation on the mad doctor story, and you can see some things Fisher would later use in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).