THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH. Hammer Films, UK, 195(. Anton Diffring, Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, Francis de Wolff and Arnold Marle. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, based on the play The Man in Half Moon Street, by Barre Lyndon. Directed by Terence Fisher.

   The Hammer team at the top of their form, with a superior effort mostly overlooked these days.

   The tale is a familiar one by now, with Anton Diffring as the mysterious doctor who never ages – as long as he can get a gland transplant every ten years. The complications are predictable, but scenarist Sangster runs through them at a brisk trot, and Director Fisher works particularly well here with the photographer and set designer to evoke an atmosphere of lavish horror: all twisting stairways and foggy streets, imparting an air of mystery to Sangster’s straightforward script.

   Anton Diffring anchors the film firmly in Dorian Gray territory with a Hurd-Hatfield-like performance of restrained emotion and glassy countenance. Hazel Court projects sexy intelligence, and Christopher Lee and Francis De Wolff do well in less colorful parts. But the acting honors here go to a lesser-known actor: Arnold Marle, who plays Dr. Ludwig Weiss, the old guy who has been been keeping Anton alive all these years, but is no longer up to the task.

   This character speaks as the conscience of the piece, and Marle does a helluva job. He was an actor in German Cinema from its early days, fled the Nazis as so many did, and carved out a long career on the stage, with frequent jumps to movies & TV. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but when Dr. Weiss speaks wearily about the folly of sacrificing individuals for an idea, you can feel Marle’s life talking to you.

   It’s a performance and a role that adds depth to a good-looking film, and it lifts The Man Who Could Cheat Death an important notch above the other fine Hammer movies of its time. This is one worth seeing.