An interesting and well-paced film hampered by low-budget constraints
Produced by Sam Katzman
Written by Bernard Gordon
Music by Ross DiMaggio, George Duning
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Edited by Charles Nelson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 71 minutes
Victor Jory: Dr. Murdock
William Hudson: Dr. Jess Rogers
Charlotte Austin: Carol Adams
Jean Willes: Tracy
Ann Doran: Mrs. Ford
Paul Cavanagh: Cooper
George Lynn: Dr. Freneau
Victor Varconi: Dr. Myer
Friedrich von Ledebur: Eric
Tina Carver: Big Marge Collins
Barbara Wilson: Anna Sherman
Suddenly a scream outside the dormitory flings off the covers of sleep and draws the other women to the dorm room window. One of the detainees by the name of Marge says, "They're at it again” and adds with a premonition, "There will be somebody dead in the morning."
The next scene reveals a Frankenstein-like character called Eric carrying a terror-stricken screaming young woman to the main house. As he ascends the stairs to the second floor, we notice on the walls various portraits of men from previous centuries suggesting a long lineage or genealogy surrounding those in charge of the detention home. Or perhaps the paintings are indicative of refined and expensive tastes in art? Odd for a detention home for girls!
Carrying his young burden, Eric enters an attic room which also serves as a treatment room or lab where Dr. Murdock instructs him to place the girl in a tub of water.
The next day Marge accompanies one of the girls, Anna Sherman to the Dispensary. Anna informs a cold and emotionless Mrs. Ford that she can't keep her food down. Marge is also there to have a bandage on her leg changed by Dr. Freneau. Mrs Ford’s responses give us an insight into her attitude toward those who are placed under her charge. “Take that one (Anna) to the Infirmary” and “Let her (Marge) bandage it herself.” In fact, Marge is sent to an isolation cottage in response to her insubordinate attitude. It is obvious that from Mrs Ford’s perspective, the inmates are less than human and are viewed as being little more than inanimate objects.
One of the female inmates, Tracy has a clerical job working for Carol Adams the Social Welfare worker who has been working at La Salle for about 3 months. There appears to be a good rapport between Adams and Tracy.
Tracy asks Carol if the screams from the night before kept her awake. Carol heard nothing as she had taken a pill which sent her soundly off to sleep. Tracy tells her, "I'll bet you a box of girl scout cookies that somebody died last night" and that “It happens much too often.”
Carol contacts Mrs. Ford and enquires if anyone has died. She is told that Angie Collins had a heart attack and died. Tracy then suggests that a review of the death records would make interesting reading. Carol agrees to look at them.
Carol finds the records in Mrs. Ford's office and begins to scrutinize them as Dr. Myer stealthily enters the room. He asks Carol, “What are you doing Ms Adams?” She then asks him if the records, or death certificates, are available chronologically, to which he responds with the question, “Did you get permission from Dr. Murdock or Mrs. Ford?”
Mrs. Ford suddenly enters the office igniting an apparent clash of opposing temperaments, attitudes and approaches. Adams declares that there seems to be “something unnatural about the number of young girls that suddenly die.” Ford quickly snaps back with the question, “Which girls?” Intriguingly for any impartial observer, knowing the identity of the girls in question seems to be more important than identifying and addressing an obvious problem.
Ford informs Adams that she is “part of the administration,” that she is to “stop fancy fripperies” like movie viewing sessions and that her “immature notions of discipline” are proving to be disruptive. Ford tells her to stay in her own department and mind her own business.
As a tub is being filled in the treatment room, Eric goes to the infirmary to collect Anna Sherman. With the light shining upwards into his face, he has the appearance of one those archetypal monsters from an old Frankenstein horror movie. When Eric returns to the treatment room with Anna, it is obvious that he is physically deteriorating.
The “staff” lie to Anna by telling her that they will not hurt her and that they are only going to give her a test, something like an ECG for her heart. Cooper, however, protests: “I’ve had enough of this!” He wonders how many young lives must be sacrificed to keep Eric alive.
An electrical headband device is placed on Anna's head after which an apparatus transfers Anna's life force into Eric resulting in Anna’s death and Eric’s temporary revival.
The findings of a coroner's inquest conducted at the main house show that Anna’s death was “due to a severed spinal cord” and was deemed to have been “self-inflicted by hanging.”
Carol informs the coroner of her doubts about Anna having been suicidal. Dr. Murdock then asks Carol a series of very strategic questions designed to cast doubt on her professional credibility and credentials;
“You have been at La Salle for 3 months?” (So brief!)
“Any incidents of unsavoury treatment?” (She agrees there weren’t any)
Murdock suggests that Carol was busy showing films and giving less time to inmates. (My, perhaps she wasn’t doing her job!)
He also gets Dr Rogers, a psychiatrist for the State Department of Mental Health, to agree that an experienced psychologist would be able to detect signs of a patient being in a self-destructive frame of mind. (Clearly Adams is not an experienced psychologist)
The strategy to discredit Carol Adams has the desired effect as evidenced by such newspaper headlines as:
PRISON PSYCHOLOGIST SHOWING FILMS WHILE SHERMAN GIRL HANGS HERSELF!
Dr Rogers goes over to Murdock’s residence but finds that Murdock is absent. When Cooper shows him in to Murdock’s office, Rogers is immediately struck by the presence of exquisite antiques, especially a Rembrandt painting on the wall. Cooper says it was picked up for $100 in 1850, but he suddenly corrects himself by saying it was in 1950. Ah Ha! An interesting clue to add to Roger’s wondering as to “who’d ever dream of looking inside a prison to find all of this!”
Questioning of the inmates soon begins. Through their investigation, Carol, Rogers, and Tracy discover that the medical staff came to the facility about two years earlier "when all the funny business started." They also obtained the names of 11 girls who had died under mysterious circumstances. Ford even informed them that, as luck would have it, the death certificates were destroyed in a mysterious fire!
Rogers and Carol go to see Marge who is in isolation. Marge makes an interesting observation that lends weight to doubts concerning Anna’s supposed suicide: “Did you ever hear anyone scream when they hang themselves?” Anna was screaming but only Marge heard as everybody else was watching the movie.
Being unable to review the death records due to the “unfortunate accident” of the "mysterious fire" in the file room, Rogers requests a complete history of all the detainees. He also wants to obtain tissue samples of Anna Sherman to examine as well a full autopsy performed.
Rogers later confides to Carol, “I’m convinced she was already dead, but I can’t prove it.” However, he had noticed that Cooper was not with the others at the morgue and surmises that there is some animosity between Cooper and the other medical staff.
At a meeting with Murdock and the other staff members, Cooper is informed of their decision not to "renew" him due to his increasing “disaffection” and his becoming a “menace to the project.” Cooper’s changing physical appearance indicates that his time is almost up. He admits that “220 years is too long for any man to live" and reach a point whereby “you think you can give life and take life.”
Cooper suddenly panics and seems to have second thoughts. He pleads with the others, “I feel I’m close to an answer…. I just need a few more years!” Cooper then abruptly dies without divulging the whereabouts of his notes. The others suspect that either Rogers or Carol have his notes.
It turns out that Rogers received the instructions in the mail informing him that he will be able to “find his (Cooper’s) diary under a large rock near the cliffs” not far from the grounds of the detention facility. As Rogers goes off in search of the diary, he is followed closely by Eric.
As Eric follows Rogers, it is apparent that he is in physical distress as he keeps falling and clutching his chest through which the sound of his pounding heart clearly and loudly emanates.
Rogers locates the diary in a metal box under a rock. In the diary Cooper explains that he was born in 1733 in England. In the 1780s he came to Paris to work with the Comte de Saint Germain (an actual historical figure!), a scientist working on animal magnetism and a project to prolong life indefinitely.
After a brief tussle with Eric, Rogers continues to read the journal. In it Cooper explains the life-prolonging process which involves the transfer of bioelectric energy from one person to another, whereby the donor dies and the recipient lives. It was discovered that the best source of life is young women of child bearing age. The medical staff at the detention facility have been aiming to synthesize the life force by using copper sulphate.
Eric suddenly goes berserk and runs amok through the dorms of the facility. Meanwhile, Rogers discovers from his reading of the diary / journal that “except for the last few hours before transfer, we’re the same as other people” and that a stone-like shell encases the affected person when they are close to death. In Eric’s case, he had been a “casualty of our first experiment.”
After hiding the journal, Rogers returns to the facility where Eric has in the meantime gone to the Isolation section. Once there, he grabs hold of Marge and carries her back to the main house and the treatment room.
Meanwhile, Carol tries to telephone the State Police for help but is informed by the facility receptionist / operator that only Dr. Murdock can approve the call but that he's out somewhere on the grounds.
Rogers decides to take more direct action by kicking in the locked treatment room door. He finds Eric there who then chases Rogers until Murdock and Mrs. Ford find Eric and escort him back to the room.
After re-joining Carol and Tracy, Rogers accompanied by his two fellow mutineers make their way to the facility’s switchboard where Tracy and Carol try to put in a call to the State Police. However, before the call can be completed Myer shoots out the switchboard.
When Eric’s body finally (and quickly) succumbs to the inevitable universal process of atrophy, Rogers is placed in the life-force transference chair. Before the others can bestow their gift of immortality on Rogers, he tells them that he neutralised the solution in the tub with sodium salts.
Freneau goes to the basement to reconnect the fuses and turn on the water main. However, the clumsy klutz manages to (you guessed it!) start a fire in the basement.
Revolution and anarchy ensue with inmates flitting about in their nightgowns and Rogers engaging in fisty-cuffs with Murdock, along with a bit of gun fire.
While their version of Rome burns down around them, Murdock and Mrs. Ford stay in the treatment room to complete their notes. The film closes with the girls returning to their dorms and Rogers and Carol walking away while in the background the house continues to be consumed by flames.
Points of Interest
Beware, Lest We Turn to Stone!
From the title of the film, The Man Who Turned to Stone, we gain the impression that it will likely be a horror film about some unfortunate soul who becomes petrified or who turns into a statue and perhaps launches into a murderous rampage. The film, however, does not neatly fit into just the horror genre. It also has elements of the science fiction and mystery genres, along perhaps with some social-political commentary ….
The importance of the film lies in its commentary on the potential dangers associated with any system that is created to govern the affairs and lives of people. This could apply to any political, bureaucratic, legal, religious, military, corporate, workplace and other system.
One of the dangers of such systems is that those who are in control may wish to perpetuate their positions and grip on power indefinitely by whatever means necessary, even at the expense of the lives and liberty of those under their authority.
The bulk of the people under the control of those in authority can run the risk of becoming objectified instead of being viewed and treated as human individuals.
The power and control of those in command of such systems often depends on various means of indoctrination and the active complicity of those engaged to enforce, manage and administer the system. There can be a tendency toward compartmentalisation of knowledge and skills instead of a wider holistic interconnected understanding of a particular system’s functioning.
The established authority may seek to sustain and perpetuate itself by resorting to lies, corruption and creating a climate of fear, thereby sucking the very life out of those under its control.
Opponents of the established order and system of authority often find themselves ridiculed, demeaned or can face far worse consequences. This, however, cannot completely not stop those who have the pursuance and uncovering of truth as their main focus.
The roll of whistle-blowers is essential in any process of resistance involving the investigation of deception and corruption by those in authority.
Another way to fight a corrupt system is to exploit its inherent contradictions and any signs of internal dissent.
A system that runs the risk of existing solely for the benefit of those in charge at the expense of those being governed, can be recognized by a rising tide of conservatism in which people soon become mired and stagnate in the self-perpetuating swill of mundane, close-minded and intolerant points of view and perceptions of reality. This can affect any organisation, institution or political system, from the most lunatic left-wing through to the most rabid right wing system. In either case, true creative and reformative thinking and approaches are replaced by a more restrictive and punitive mindset that focusses on more discipline and tighter control. Change and radical new ways of thinking and doing is an anathema to such a system that seeks to maintain the kind of status quo that serves the interests of those in charge. What remains is a petrified world view set hard in stone…….
To Reform & Rehabilitate or “Fancy Fripperies,” and “Immature Notions of Discipline”?
The women in LaSalle Detention Home for Girls form a segment of the population that few people would care about. Being “bad girls” in detention, they would be considered to have quite rightly lost all their rights. They have in fact no power, are anonymous and largely forgotten.
On the other hand, there are those like Carol Adams, the social worker who thinks it is important that the girls are helped reform, instead of just being incarcerated and punished.
These diametrically opposed views of the purpose of imprisonment are still being debated at the time of writing. Take the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia or the revelation in 2016 concerning the ill-treatment of juveniles in detention in the Northern territory. Also, community perceptions of the increasing incidence of juvenile crime, as well as the flaws in the bail and parole system has reignited debate about the nature and role of detention and incarceration.
Let’s hope we can come up with sensible solutions that stops us all on both sides of the wall from turning to stone….
The Comte De Saint Germain
“A Man Whose Riddle Has Never Been Solved”
(Frederick the Great)
Who was this enigmatic figure from history who was mentioned in Cooper’s diary and who figured in the development of the life-prolonging process used by the staff in the girls’ detention facility? Yes, that is the question: Who was he indeed?
Also known as Marquis de Montferrat, Comte Bellamarre, Chevalier Schoening, Count Weldon, Comte Soltikoff, Graf Tzarogy and Prinz Ragoczy, Saint Germain would tell people fantastic things about himself, such as that he was 500 years old!
The following have been attributed to him either by himself or by others;
- Of unknown origin but claimed he was the son of Francis II Rákóczi, the Prince of Transylvania.
- Educated in Italy by the last of the Medicis.
- Arrested in London on suspicion of espionage during the Jacobite rebellion but released without charge.
- Could sing, play the violin and compose music.
- Described as being odd but well-bred.
- Employed by Louis XV of France for diplomatic missions.
- Excellent conversationalist who was “everything with everybody.”
- Was a linguist who spoke or understood Italian, French, Polish, English, Spanish and Portuguese.
- Never ate any food in public.
- Claimed that he had a mastery over nature, that he could melt diamonds, and even form one large one from ten or twelve small diamonds without any loss of weight.
- Was said to possess the elixir of life and could to make gold at will.
- That he had invented a new method of dyeing or colouring cloth.
- He would tell listeners that he was actually present during historical events, or would describe things in such detail that led others to believe that he had personal and intimate knowledge of those events.
- Was reported not to have physically changed by elderly people who knew him when they were younger.
- For an entire century, it was claimed that he kept the physical appearance of a man of between forty and fifty years old.
- That he died on 27 February 1784.
"A man who knows everything and who never dies,”
Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte De Saint Germain, Last Scion of the House of Rakoczy., East-West Publications Ltd, 1988.
We have seen Victor Jory who plays Dr. Murdock, appear in the sci-fi film, Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) which is featured in this blog.
We have also seen Friedrich von Ledebur who plays Eric, appear in the sci-fi film, The 27th Day (1957) as the self-sacrificing scientist. That film is also featured in this blog.