Monday, September 26, 2022

“I Want to Be More to Him than a Helper” - Night of the Bloody Transplant (1970) - Film #238

It is time to visit the bustling city of Flint, Michigan to witness 1970's regional horror film Night of the Bloody Transplant (not to be confused with the previous year's Night of Bloody Horror). Combining a surgical thriller with a protoslasher, the film is a powerful statement about life, death, and the things people will do to choose one over the other (usually, though not always, life over death).

Some of your universe's critics are confused about Night of the Bloody Transplant. For example, reviewer ddk999 writes, "Somehow, even at 71 minutes run time- with several scenes clearly padded with 'shooting the rodeo' footage- it still seemed endless." Reviewer Angry Ghost Kid writes, "This one was just bad. From the flat lighting and scenery, to the amateur acting, to the bad writing, to the scenes that go on way too long in clubs." And reviewer Stefano Monteforte writes, "murky lighting ruins some of it and none of it is any good, anyway."

Read on for the truth about the groundbreaking Night of the Bloody Transplant...

A taxicab pulls up to a hotel in the snowy streets of Flint, Michigan. The camera’s POV gets into an elevator, pushes a button, and goes up a few floors. Then a man walks into a conference room to address the International Medical Society. The man is Dr. James Arnold, coronary specialist, as indicated by a shaky shot of a bulletin board naming him as the conference’s main speaker.

When Dr. Arnold is introduced, however, the Peter Boyle-like chair of the conference says, with not a little sexism, “Gentlemen, Dr. Arnold has arrived and would like to say a few words before we come to any decision about his proposal.”

Instead of serving as the conference’s main speaker, Dr. Arnold begins his exhortation to the society: “Fellow doctors, I think you all know the great amount of time and money I’ve spent researching and experimenting with heart transplants.” He tells his fellow (male) doctors that he believes heart transplants in humans are a possibility. Although this statement might appear non-controversial, as several human heart transplants had been performed in the 1960s before this film was made in 1970, the other (male) doctors are outraged. “Research on animals is a far cry from making guinea pigs of human beings!” cries the only black (male) doctor in attendance. The doctors rail against Dr. Arnold, telling him to take a few more months to conduct more research on non-human animals. Of course, Dr. Arnold storms out of the conference, incensed that the medical establishment wants him to be slightly more careful.

Dr. Arnold takes the taxi back to his suburban home. We watch in painstaking detail as he puts ice in a glass, pours some Hennessy whisky, and takes a sip, then turns around to see an attractive blonde woman in his rumpus room. Dr. Arnold’s brother Tom appears from another room, buttoning his pants. Dr. Arnold snaps, “How many times have I told you not to bring your tramps here? If you want to roll in the gutter, do it somewhere else.”

Tom, a boxer, confronts Dr. Arnold with long-simmering frustrations, then gets the doctor to give him some money to pay of the “tramp.” In a clever bit of editing, the filmmakers cut from Dr. Arnold reaching into his pocket to get his wallet to Tom reaching into his own pocket to pull out some dollar bills—he is now in one of Flint, Michigan’s finest strip clubs. (As in most regional horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, the strip routine lasts an inordinately long amount of time, but it does eventually end.)

The film cuts to Dr. Arnold’s office, where a woman named Mrs. Woodruff reiterates her request for a heart transplant to Dr. Arnold’s nurse, Miss Mills. Mrs. Woodruff admits she has been funding Dr. Arnold’s research, somewhat selfishly, as she needs a new heart. She also admits she wants to live longer because she is wealthy and a lot of people are waiting for her to die, so she doesn’t want to give them any satisfaction. Thus, her motivation for advancing medical science, as it is in almost all cases, is spite.

The nurse, Beth, also admits her feelings for Dr. Arnold to the old lady. “I want to be more to him than a helper.”

“I understand, Beth,” says Mrs. Woodruff. “You’ll have more time for each other once this business is over.” (Of course, as a wise woman, Mrs. Woodruff understands perfectly that once the heart transplant is a success, Dr. Arnold will have no responsibilities in the future.)

Mrs. Woodruff meets with Dr. Arnold in his office, where she tells him she has arranged his foundation to be paid $100,000 per year for the next 10 years. He sidesteps some tricky problems, such as getting hospital facilities and a donor heart, and then says goodbye to his matronly patron. As soon as she leaves, Beth enters and the two discuss the situation, helpfully recapping the film’s previous twenty minutes in sharp dialogue like “It’s your discovery and you’re going to get everything you deserve for performing that operation. No arguments. Finish your work and we’ll get some dinner.”

At night, Tom picks up a woman in a bar. There is a scuffle in an alley that is too dark for the audience to see, and suddenly the woman is lying down on an ice chest, apparently dead or near death. Tom carries her body all the way to Dr. Arnold’s office.

It takes several minutes of dialogue, but Dr. Arnold eventually realizes the importance that the near-dead woman represents. “Prepare the patient for surgery, Beth. This is going to be a long night.”

Thus, the (long) night of the bloody transplant begins, complete with closeups of sweaty surgical-masked faces and jars full of blood. The doctor’s singularly unqualified brother even assists in the procedure, which includes some graphic footage of open heart surgery.

“It’s too late,” Dr. Arnold says in the middle of the operation.

“No,” replies Beth. “It’s not too late. It’s just the beginning.”

The film dissolves to a snowy riverside, where emergency personnel remove a body. Two policemen discuss the incident, but in a remarkable touch of realism, their words cannot be heard over the rushing of the icy river. They do, however, discover at the last minute that the heart has been removed. Though it is difficult to hear over the river, I believe the lieutenant in charge quips, “I’ve heard the expression ‘I’ll cut her heart out,’ but I never thought I’d see it done.”

In an excellent transition, the film dissolves from the (oddly) yellow sheet covering the victim to the (slightly less oddly) yellow sheets under which a police detective named Paul makes love to a woman. Suddenly, he gets a phone call about the murder.

Meanwhile, Dr. Arnold and Beth argue about the morality of what they have done. Beth believes her lover’s career is worth the cost, but Dr. Arnold is having ethical concerns.

Also meanwhile, we are fortunate enough to witness Paul (who resembles both Robert Blake and Walter Matthau) and his partner Danny’s pursuit of justice as they try to track down the heartless murder victim. The detectives meet in a bar, which allows the filmmakers to show in its entirety the performance of a talented singer backed by guitars and an unseen organ. The detectives question the singer, who tells them to go to another of Flint, Michigan’s many nightclub hotspots.

Dr. Arnold grows more paranoid at the hospital, where a colleague talks about the details of severing the heart, making Dr. Arnold suspicious his colleague is talking about the murder victim, when in fact he is talking about a young girl who needs a heart operation.

Later, the film ventures into protoslasher territory as a man in a black leather jacket stabs a nude woman taking a bath—this victim had threatened to reveal information about Tom’s association with the first murdered woman.

The filmmakers offer another fascinating transition, as the image of the bloody bathroom dissolves to a man and woman doing an interpretive dance that involves messy paint in yet another of Flint’s nightclubs. Also, a woman sings an entire song as Tom watches her stoically.

Back at Dr. Arnold’s office, we see that Mrs. Woodruff is recovering from her heart transplant. When she finds out the doctor has not publicized the success of the operation, she tells him, “Sometimes I wonder if your modesty doesn’t border on stupidity.”

“It’s…anything but stupidity, Mrs. Woodruff,” Dr. Arnold says with guilt in his voice.

Fortunately, we get to see more of the police investigation as Danny explains the case to his wife, including the fact that their lead was just murdered but the murderer left behind a “souvenir coin,” which Tom was flipping nervously in an earlier scene.

In the morning, Tom confronts his brother about their precarious situation as murderers and the fact that the now-dead woman was blackmailing Tom. Dr. Arnold says, “I was talking to Beth yesterday…”

“What do you mean you were talking to Beth? What the hell has she got to do with it?”

“Keep your voice down. You seem to forget she has a great deal to do with it.”

“She has too much to do with it,” Tom admits.

Tom opens the newspaper and sees that his blackmailer was found dead in her bathtub. Shocked, he crumples up the paper.

The film cuts to yet another nightclub performance as Paul and his girlfriend discuss whether or not they should get married and/or whether he should quit the force. Eventually, their conversation is interrupted by a phone call. 

Meanwhile, Tom confronts Beth; he assumes she killed his girlfriend to save the blackmail money. In a well-staged sequence, Tom struggles with Beth, then pushes her through a dark doorway. We hear her thump down a long series of steps, and the camera reveals her dead at the bottom of a staircase.

Tom grins grimly when he realizes what he has done. Mrs. Woodruff, who is still recovering at Dr. Arnold’s house, hears something and laboriously gets out of her bed to investigate. She discovers Beth’s body, which strains her brand new heart, and stumbles into Tom’s clutches. He smothers the one-foot-in-the-grave woman with a pillow in possibly the easiest murder to commit in cinema history. Then he prepares to run from the house, but he is stopped when Dr. Arnold enters. Tom punches his brother and leaves.

The police arrive at the house soon after (we’re never told why) and the chase is on to find Tom, who drives to the local Flint commuter airport. He requests to charter a plane to El Paso, unaware that an APB has been called in to the airport. In another touch of realism, when Tom goes to the bathroom, the charter service secretary explains to the owner/pilot, a no-nonsense older man, “Ed, the police called. They’re looking for a man, and I think that’s him.”

In a perfectly naturalistic delivery with just the right notes of urgency and condescension, Ed replies, “Well, you better call them right back.”

The police arrive and there are gunshots, though the scene is too dark to make anything out. Someone cries, “Look out, he’s got a gun!” There is another gunshot.

After the climactic (though invisible) climax, the filmmakers cut to the hospital, were Paul is undergoing surgery. “His heart was badly damaged,” Paul’s partner explains to Paul’s wife. “They’re trying the one thing they can to save him.”

“What are they trying?”

“A transplant.”

“A transplant? You’re not telling me everything!”

They explain the twist: Dr. Arnold died in his confrontation with his brother, so the operation is being performed by his colleague. In fact, Dr. Arnold is the donor, and Paul’s life will be saved by Dr. Arnold’s heart. “He’ll still get credit for the first heart transplant, no matter how you look at it.”

The End

In my universe, Flint, Michigan is not known as the nightclub capital of the world, so I was fascinated to learn how many exciting clubs are open every night in your universe's Flint, Michigan. In fact, it appears that Flint, Michigan makes Las Vegas, Nevada look like Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Over and above the appearance of many nightclubs (and nightclub acts), the film has a fascinating structure. The first part focuses on the buildup to the heart transplant surgery scene; the middle part shows real footage of a heart transplant; and the final part explores the dynamics of three relationships between men and women. Dr. Arnold and Beth begin to fight about the consequences of the transplant. Tom and his girlfriend are split by a blackmail attempt. And Paul and his wife argue about whether Paul should quit the force. These three stories come together in an almost O. Henry fashion through the device of multiple murders until all the strands combine when Paul is saved (presumably) using Dr. Arnold's heart. Not many protoslashers can boast such a complex yet satisfying structure. All in all, Night of the Bloody Transplant is a film of great resourcefulness, a film for which director David W. Hanson can be rightly proud.