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"He's got a strange way o' holdin his neck, stiff-like an' twisted, like he bin hanged, on'y the hangin didn't take."
Mule Jesse, in the Kung Fu episode "The Nature of Evil"

A character who has survived a hanging. They will frequently sport a scarred or deformed neck as a result. This may just indicate that he is a real hard case and too tough to kill easily, or it may be used to show what a bad life he has led and to explain his hatred of the world. A Bungled Suicide may also be involved.

If he survived three attempts, a sporting (or superstitious) executioner may have let him go. Probably because it's best to keep on the good side of a Badass like that.

Shoot the Rope may be used to explain their survival.

Not to be confused with men who are well hung.

Examples of The Man They Couldn't Hang include:


Anime

  • Devil Rebirth from Fist of the North Star. He had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment due to the fact that Villainy Prison didn't have anything, including rope, capable of killing him. He later meets Death By Kenshiro.

Comic Books

  • Lady Deathstrike was hung from a telephone wire by Nazi soldiers during the Spanish Civil War in a Time Travel related Wolverine storyline. Rather than dying, as one might expect, she flexed her neck to massive proportions, bursting the wires, and proceeded to kill the soldiers' tank...
  • Nemesis the Warlock once crashed on Earth and group of alien-hating villagers decided the best way to kill him is by hanging. Three days have passed before they realzied he is still alive, after every person who wronghet him meet Karmic Death.
  • This old mystery comic story is centered around a man whose "neck was broken, but the spinal cord wasn't severed!" And using the fact that he was declared legally dead as an odd sort of diplomatic immunity.
  • Played for laughs in a Sturmtruppen strip featuring a man too tall to be hanged by normal means, much to the soldiers' dismay.

Film

  • Ygor from Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein, the character who gave his name to The Igor.
  • In Bend Of The River, James Stewart, of all people, is one of these.
  • Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Hang 'Em High, an innocent victim of vigilante justice who seeks revenge on those who strung him up and left him for dead.
  • Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds has an unexplained rope scar around his neck, suggesting that this trope is somewhere in his backstory. Of course, in the part of the country he's from, at the time this movie takes place, didn't take a whole lot.
  • Lord Blackwood in the new Sherlock Holmes lives through hanging the first time. Though it turns out that he didn't survive through any sort of toughness or special powers, but because his execution was staged; a hook hidden in the noose and a torso rig diverted the weight of his body away from his neck and onto the torso brace. A few feigned twitches and a drug-induced death-like coma completed the illusion.
  • He doesn't have a scar, but Captain Jack Sparrow fits this trope by the end of the first film.
  • In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, it's revealed that Tony has been hung several times, most likely for the various crimes he's committed (including dealings with the mob and selling children's organs on the black market). He survives through a trick in which he swallows a small metal flute, which prevents his throat from being crushed. He ultimately dies when Parnassus swaps the flute with a fake, breakable one.
  • The eponymous villain in Madman, who survived being hanged by angry villagers and now carries the noose as his secondary weapon.
  • Richard O'Connell is hanged in The Mummy 1999. His neck is strong enough that it doesn't break, and Evelyn negotiates his release before he strangles to death.
    • Brendan Fraser himself fits this trope. He was actually being hanged in that scene due to a prop failure.
  • Boris Karloff starred as Dr. Henryk Savaard, who is executed but brought back to life in a 1939 Columbia Pictures thriller titled (you guessed it), The Man They Could Not Hang.
    • Although in this movie, he really does die, and is brought back to life with science... he had it all planned out ahead of time though.
  • Freddie attempts to dispose of Michael Myers by hanging him in Halloween Resurrection. Needless to say, it doesn't work. Michael acts as though being thrown out of a window and hung was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in The Good the Bad And The Ugly: Tuco survives being hanged at least three times.

Literature

  • Mat in The Wheel of Time series has a scarred neck from a survived hanging, which he carefully conceals.
    • Mat's hanging from the tree of life is another part of his intentional similarity to the Norse god Odin.
  • The Hanged Man from The Black Company. Survived due to being an incredibly powerful wizard.
  • The thoroughly nasty Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill from Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels.
    • And, on the other side of the moral divide, Thomas of Hookton from the same author's Grail Quest novels.
  • In one of the war novels by Sven Hassel, Porta tells the story of a sailor who can't be hanged because he virtually has no neck. In the end the hangman goes insane with frustration and demonstrates that his rope works perfectly on himself.
  • Half Cocked Jack of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle survives a hanging by being pulled down by an angry mob.
  • And, as Skeeve learned in the Myth Adventures series by Robert Asprin, never try to hang a Pervect by the neck.
    • They've tried to hang Skeeve too, but being a wizard, he just levitated. Of course, Aahz is a wizard as well, but he was depowered at the time, so he survived because Pervects have extremely strong neck muscles.
  • The head of the Thieves' Guild in Dragons of Summer Flame is a man named Lynched Geoffery (or just Lynch), so called because he was lynched and lived to tell about it (just don't ask to see his neck if you value life or limb). Also subverted later in the same book- he antagonizes the Evil Overlord in a misguided attempt to get an alliance, and the response is two words- "Hang him." This hanging goes rather well- after all, Lynch already had practice!
  • Pangloss from Candide. It's not sure it was for the better.
  • Roger in the Outlander series.
  • Discworld's Moist von Lipwig is a subversion - Vetinari deliberately has him publicly hanged "to within half an inch of his life" to fake his death so that he can keep Moist on as a Boxed Crook.
  • You can hang a Hoka, but it won't hurt him (they have unusually strong neck muscles), and he'll consider it all part of whatever fiction is currently being lived out.
  • Juliette, from the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, is an unusually young example; she's only thirteen. It's implied she'd attempted to hang herself, but not only did she not do it properly, the Doctor showed up to rescue her.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire one of Beric Dondarrion's numerous rumored deaths is being hanged. As it turns out, he was, and died. He just came back after.
  • Sharpe's nemesis Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill survived a hanging, and claimed that this meant that God had chosen him to be spared and therefore he couldn't be killed. The firing squad proved him wrong on that count later on, though.

Live Action Television

  • The killer in the Kung Fu episode, mentioned above.
  • Charlie, on Lost, managed to (barely) survive a hanging, but that might have been the cause of his demise in Season 3.
  • An Angel flashback episode dealt with Angel attempting to get rid of a demon in the Hyperion (the hotel he now owns) that manipulates peoples emotions causing them to kill each other. Unfortunately the angry hotel guests target him and hang him from the chandelier. After they leave the lobby he cuts himself down and pretty much gives a big fuck you to the guests, telling the demon he can have them.
  • Jack the Ripper has this attribute when he appears on Kolchak the Night Stalker. Electrocution works pretty well, however.
  • Krane, the eponymous villain of the Queen of Swords episode "The Hanged Man".
  • Murdoch Mysteries had this as a key element of an episode as the detectives are trying to figure out how a convict survived his hanging and then escaped. The hangman was an expert who used detailed anatomical charts and precise calculations to make sure nothing like that ever happened. The condemned man was innocent and the hangman knew exactly how to sabotage things so an innocent man would not be hanged on his watch.
  • Played for Laughs with Ralph Filthy in one episode of Filthy Rich and Catflap.

Music

  • Celtic rock band The Men They Couldn't Hang take their name from this trope, with the added bonus of sounding very anti-establishment.
  • Referenced in the lyrics of The Tragically Hip's song Bobcaygeon:

 That night in Toronto with its checkerboard floors

Riding on horseback and keeping order restored

Till the men they couldn't hang

Stepped to the mike and sang

And their voices rang with that Aryan twang

    • This is a reference to the aforementioned band.
  • The Fairport Convention's Concept Album Babbacombe is based on the life of Real Life example John "Babbacombe" Lee.

 They stand me in a corner with my hands and feet still tied

A warder holds onto the noose, the trapdoor opens wide

Is it magic or coincidence that keeps me on the brink?

It seems to work without me, "Will it kill me now?" I think

...

My life was spared that morning 'cos it wasn't theirs to take

Three's the most the law requires a man to feel the stake.

Radio

  • On The Goon Show, Neddie Seagoon was sentenced to hang by a Kangaroo Court but they were forced to relent on realising he hadn't actually got a neck.

Video Game

  • Black Isle's vaporware'd Fallout 3 was going to include the companion NPC The Hanged Man, a badass of such legendary stature having him in your party would make people react much the same as if you had the Child Killer 'perk'. You can guess how the trope applies to him.
    • Incidentally, he's mentioned in Fallout: New Vegas. As the former lieutenant of Big Bad Caesar, he was set on fire and thrown into the grand canyon in a truly epic example of You Have Failed Me. Caesar clearly heard that hanging didn't work. Unfortunately, his reputation as the ultimate Implacable Man means there are still rumours that he's walking around somewhere - this time with the moniker The Burned Man.
      • He's back in the newest DLC, Honest Hearts. He's also...slightly miffed about the whole 'being covered in pitch and thrown in the Grand Canyon whilst aflame' thing.
        • In said DLC, to reflect his truly insanely hard to kill nature, he has an Endurance stat of 10, and the highest DT of any creature in the game at 50, placing him on higher damage threshold than most armor piercing rounds can penetrate. Additionally, he's one of two NPCs in the game with a unique "title" in the GECK - Destroying Angel.
  • In the game Conkers Bad Fur Day, Franky the Pitchfork is Driven to Suicide by his heckling companions the paint pot and the paint brush after failing to kick Conker's ass. When he decides to hang himself, he fails because he "does not appear to have a neck of any description", and remains stuck hanging from the barnyard ceiling until Conker cuts him down.
  • Then of course, there's Morshu.
  • Mr. Black's assistant Mr. Lynch in Red Dead Revolver survived being hanged. It shows, as he has hard time keeping his neck straight during his pre-duel scene.
  • According to the sparse back-story for Quake 3 character Cadaver "is a brutal murderer who couldn’t be executed, The electric chair, gallows, and gas chamber only made him meaner"

Web Comic

  • Also in Girl Genius - you can't hang Jaegermonsters.
  • An odd example with Belkar in Order of the Stick where a group of bandits try to hang him and he suffurs no injury. Belkar points out that as a halfling, his anatomy is unsuitable for death by hanging (he doesn't weigh much and his head constitutes the majority of his mass). The worst he gets is a bit of woozyness from the blood rushing to his head when his weight evens out.

 Belkar: You know, that's the problem with humans, always assuming that other races are the same as they are, so they assume the same methods of execution are valid.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in a Ren and Stimpy episode, where they are hung for horse stealing. Ren just blows in the wind, and Stimpy has no neck.

Real Life

  • Western legend Roy Bean was a Real Life case of this, making it Truth in Television.
    • Also the eighteenth-century Margaret Dickson, who was pardoned and ever after known as "Half-Hangit Maggie".
  • One tale tells of a buccaneer who was hung, scared the crowd away by yelling at them, chewed through the rope, and escaped.
  • In real life, on the other hand, most "hanging" sentences are more specifically enunciated as "hanged until dead". Even if being hanged doesn't snap the victim's neck, staying there for a while would almost definitely suffocate anyone. It's more slow and painful but it would get the job done. This is intended to ensure the demise of a would-be Rules Lawyer.
    • There was allegedly a time in America where surviving three attempted executions of any kind was considered an act of God, and you were given a life sentence instead, if not set free.
      • This was also the case in Britain, and happened to John "Babbacome" Lee in 1884. Given a life sentence, he was eventually released in 1907, when the Home Secretary was persuaded that the case against him had not been conclusive.
      • And Joseph Samuel in Australia, who was granted a full pardon on the spot.
      • Also in Imperial Russia.
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