Operations were no fun in the days before anesthesia. Boris Karloff gives a great performance as Dr.Thomas Bolton who is trying to find a way to take the pain out of surgery in 1840 London. Christopher Lee is very creepy as Resurrection Joe.
Dr.Thomas Bolton divides his time between surgery for the paying patients and a charity ward. He’s obsessed with making surgery painless. The only thing he can do for now is to operate as quickly as possible.
He gets chemicals from the hospital dispensary to work in his home lab. The more operations he performs the more determined he gets. The head of the hospital doesn’t care how he gets cadavers for the students. He pays tavern owner Black Ben and his cohort Resurrection Joe to bump off charity patients.
Bolton tries another experiment and inhales his own gas concoction. His niece Susan (Betta St.John) lives with him and hears him laughing hysterically from his lab. She goes in and sees him knocking things over and he can’t stop laughing. In the process he gets a bad cut on his hand. He realizes he didn’t feel the pain and thinks his gas worked.
He tells the hospital committee he wants to give a demonstration of his formula. The patient he had lined up to be experimented on dies. He has to go to the charity ward and get another one. He picks out a man who has a lacerated arm.
The students and the committee are all sitting in the operating theatre to watch. Bolton makes an incision. The patient isn’t knocked out and goes nuts with the pain and attacks everyone in sight before being subdued. The experiment is a failure and everyone laughs Bolton out of the room and even toss in a few boos.
He continues to experiment and inhale the gas. He ends up at the Seven Dials Tavern and the notebook he’s carrying in grabbed by a pickpocket. It’s all a set up by Ben. Joe has just smothered a patient with a pillow in an upstairs room. Back home Bolton discovers that his notebook is missing.
He remembers the night before was not a dream and goes back to the tavern. Ben shows him the notebook while holding it over a fire. He says if he’ll sign a phony death certificate he can have the book back. Bolton signs.
Bolton performs a number of operations and finally needs his son to hand him the right instruments. The committee wants to fire him but his friend convinces them to let him take some time off. Bolton agrees figuring it’ll give him more time for his experiments.
He goes to the dispensary for a supply of chemicals and is told he can’t have any until he returns from his vacation. He goes to see Ben and Joe. He has to sign a number of blank death certificates before they’ll help. That night Bolton and Joe break into the dispensary. The night porter catches them and Joe kills him.
Inspector Donovan (Nigel Green) goes to Bolton’s home and shows a certificate to Susan and Bolton’s son Johnathan. He says the handwriting on top is different than Bolton’s signature. He decides Ben is behind the racket and that night schedules a raid on the Seven Dials. Bolton is in the upper story continuing his experiments.
This is a good find. Maybe the title made movie goers think it was a cheap horror film. That’s too bad because in reality it’s a good dramatic film with a not to be missed Boris Karloff performance.