The Man from Beyond (1922)
Film review #409
Director: Burton L. King
SYNOPSIS: An expedition finds a shipwreck frozen in the Arctic. On board, they find a man encased in ice. They begin to free him, and learn from the journals on the ship that the man was frozen over one hundred years ago in 1820. They decide to not tell him about this until they are ready to announce his discovery to the world. When the man is taken to the home of a scientist, he sees a woman being married that he believes is the same one he loved over one hundred years ago. Little does he know, he is interrupting an evil scheme undertaken by the man she is marrying…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Man from Beyond is a 1922 film starring the famous escapologist Harry Houdini. At the start of the film, we see two men on an expedition in some frozen wastelands, when they stumble across a ship embedded in the ice. Dr. Sinclair, the head of the expedition, learns that the ship had been wrecked in 1820, over one hundred years ago through reading some of the journals on board. They find a man encased in ice who they are able to thaw out. The man wakes up and still believes he is in the year 1820, and Dr. Sinclair decides not to tell him how long he has been frozen until he is returned to civilisation where his discovery can be announced to the world. He is brought to the home of Dr. Sinclair by car…which is a bit odd considering that there were no cars in 1820, and so the man should probably have been suspicious about what was going on? Anyway, the man, Howard Hilary, sees that a wedding is going on between a man named Dr. Trent and a woman named Felice…who resembles the woman he loved before he was shipwrecked, also called Felice. Hilary interrupts the wedding believing the Felice he knew has abandoned him, but this Felice has no idea who he is.
The man Felice is to marry, Dr. Trent, is planning to marry her so he can get his hands on her Father’s property. Her Father, Dr. Strange (no, not the Marvel superhero) has been missing for nearly a year after he went along for the voyage, but apparently got a not saying his daughter was sick, and never returned home. The plot mainly revolves around Hilary attempting to stop Dr. Trent from marrying Felice and uncovering his evil scheme, while attempting to find her Father. I feel like the film could have done more with the premise of a man waking up after one hundred years. Instead, it focuses on a love story and an evil scheme that doesn’t really live up to what it could have been. The story is well put together, and the pacing is decent enough along with a varied cast of characters, but not enough attention is given to the novel premise of the film. Being a Houdini film, there are a few scenes of him performing some escape acts, and the finale being set on a raging river delivers some entertaining action that adds variety.
The film opens up showing a quote from the bible, which I assume is due to the whole theme of bringing someone back from the dead and reincarnation would have been controversial and heretic for a film at the same, so the film frames the events in this Christian way to avoid these accusations (which would be my guess anyway). Another interesting reason for this may be because the film was also a means for Houdini to restore his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle, while not particularly religious, was an enthusiast for Spiritualism, and wrote two books on the legitimacy of seances, communicating with the dead, ectoplasm and such forth. Houdini was a vocal sceptic of spiritualism, and the pair fell out during a seance where Houdini’s Mother was supposedly speaking from beyond the grave through a medium, and Houdini was enraged when the medium spoke in English, even though Houdini’s Mother only ever spoke and understood German. It seems to have had the desired effect, as Doyle praised the film and its message. Whether Houdini really changed his mind or not on spiritualism I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting story.
Overall, The Man from Beyond is a decent story for the time, with some good special effects and the expected Houdini escape feats. It’s messaging around reincarnation is a bit muddled however, and the unique premise of a man who has been frozen for over a hundred years having to adjust to ‘contemporary life’ isn’t really given any thought or focus. If you want a film which does that, the 1930 film Just Imagine! is probably one of the earliest examples.