The Walking Dead (1936)

After hapless pianist and ex-con John Elman is framed for murder, he is resurrected by a scientist after his execution.


Michael Curtiz


5 May 2003 | by whpratt1 (United States) – See all my reviews

Gangster’s led by Nolan (Ricardo Cortez) want to have a local law abiding judge killed, in doing so, they frame an ex-con, John Ellman (Boris Karloff) for the murder. Nolan acts as Ellman’s lawyer and makes certain he is convicted and executed in the electric chair. Dr. Beaumont(Edmund Gwenn), a scientist is able to restore life to dead animals and seeks permission to try reviving Ellman’s dead body. Dr. Beaumont is successful in restoring Ellman back to life. Boris Karloff goes on a killing rampage, running through graveyards making this picture very melodramatic with its black and white setting. Edmund Gwenn (Santa Claus in “Miracle on 42nd Street) gives a very dramatic performance doing his very best to help Karloff. There is a great supporting cast with Marguerite Churchill, Warren Hull, Barton MacLane and Joseph Sawyer. This is truly a great Classic film.



John Ellman (Boris Karloff) has been framed for murder by a gang of racketeers. He is unfairly tried and despite the fact that his innocence has been proven, he is sent to the electric chair and executed. Dr. Evan Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn) retrieves his dead body and revives it, as part of his experiments to reanimate a dead body and discover what happens to the soul after death.

Dr. Beaumont’s use of a mechanical heart to revive the patient foreshadows modern medicine’s mechanical heart to keep patients alive during surgery. Although John Ellman has no direct knowledge of anyone wishing to frame him for the murder before he is executed, he gains an innate sense of knowing those who are responsible after he is revived. Ellman takes no direct action against his framers; however, he seeks them out, wishing to know why they had him killed. Each dies a horrible death, and in the end it is their own guilt that causes their deaths.

Confronting the last two villains, Ellman is shot. Having fulfilled his divine mission to bring about justice, he dies, just before he would have explained death and the afterlife to the curious Dr. Beaumont. Beaumont is warned not to continue his experiments, citing the Biblical Scripture, “For the LORD thy God is a jealous God (Deut. 6:15a).”


The Walking Dead’s executive producer Hal Wallis wrote to the production supervisor Lou Edelmen on August 16, 1935 that he has sent him a six page outline for a film titled The Walking Dead .  The original story for the film was written by Ewart Adamson and Joseph Fields.  On November 1, director Michael Curtiz was sent the draft of the film  A few days before shooting was scheduled, actor Boris Karloff voiced problems involving his character John Ellman.  These issues included Ellman’s lack of speech which he felt was too close to his role in Frankenstein (1931), and Ellman’s Tarzan-like agility which he felt would induce laughter. Wallis brought in three more writers for the film.

The Walking Dead was filmed at Griffith Park, California and Warner Bros. Studios between November 23 and December 1935


Minor Horror Masterpiece

Author: BaronBl00d ( from NC
26 October 1999

Dispersed throughout the Universal reign of horror in the thirties came several remarkably well-made MGM and Warner Brother horror films. The Walking Dead is one such film produced by Warner Bros. that mixes their predominant genre of expertise, the gangster film, with the horror film. You might say in a way that it is a blend of reality and the supernatural. This film has stood the test of time well, and is a nice, taut story of a man wrongly accused of a crime, miraculously brought back to life, and eventually seeking vindication and justice from those that did him wrong. Karloff is a masterful lead in that he is able to frighten us and exact from us a tremendous amount of pity and understanding. In point of fact, his characterization of Ellman is one of his most powerful and sympathetic, a true tragic hero toyed with by crime bosses and a corrupt lawyer. Most of the acting beyond Karloff is rather pedestrian, with Edmund Gwenn turning in a nice portrayal of a questioning scientist and Ricardo Cortez wonderfully playing the stereotypical slimy lawyer. Curtiz does a good job of direction and lighting and shading are used to almost perfect results. A must see for the classic horror buff!


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