The Body Snatcher (1945)
Directed by: Robert Wise. Written by: Philip MacDonald and Carlos Keith, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Plot: A young medical student (Russell Wade) learns that the sketchy guy who supplies the bodies for the classes (Boris Karloff) is into grave robbing and murder.
Review: This movie is fucking intense. It spirals into this whole whacked out nightmare about the relationship between the resurrection man and the doctor (Henry Daniell), neither of whom can really function without the other, and the questionable morality of the situation. Nobody is strictly in the wrong, but everybody is kind of fucked.
It’s interesting. And the performances are all pretty solid - Russell Wade is sort of obnoxious, but that’s his character. He’s supposed to be a good guy. Henry Daniell and Boris Karloff are both brilliant to watch, sort of complicated, and hard not to sympathize with on some level. They’re both just doing what they have to do to cover their asses.
Then there’s the sort of weird performance from Bela Lugosi which is just in there for whatever reason. It almost feels like they wanted to do another Karloff-Lugosi film but weren’t entirely sure what to do with the latter. I did actually read the story upon which to film is based but it was a very long time ago and I don’t remember whether that character is in there or not, but he doesn’t really seem to have that much purpose, other than showing that Karloff is a hardcore motherfucker, however, since he’d already killed the singing girl and the wee dog, we already knew that.
Whatever. The movie is pretty creepy (I’ve seen it a few times and have had a different impression of it every time - most recently I found it creepy), and thematically very dark. The further it gets, the nastier it gets.
But at the same time kind of cute and earnest. I guess that’s just how the forties were. It’s unavoidable. Although like I said, it is very dark for the time. There’s no young-lovers subplot, and nobody really ends up okay by the end. Sure, Russell Wade survives, but is he any better for it?
So yeah, it’s an extremely interesting movie. It’s probably one of my favourite thrillers and one of Karloff’s best performances, just going to show that horror from the forties (particularly when produced by Val Lewton) kicks ass all over town, and wasn’t afraid to be extremely shocking and depressing despite the fact that the world was already shocked and depressed. Yeah!
Have to mention Corridors of Blood which is kind of a sister film to this - Karloff plays a doctor trying to invent anesthetics. While doing so, he gets hooked on opium and becomes involved with some shady people. Christopher Lee plays the resurrection man. The movie is sort of mediocre but it's a good companion to this one.
Favourite Part: This movie made me want to get into grave robbing. I dunno, I just really liked Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell, who I haven't really seen in anything else. He has a whole bunch of credits on IMDb and apparently he was in The Great Dictator, although I'm fucked if I can remember.
Other versions: Supposedly there is a remake in the works. Shoot me now. There have been a few other thematically similar movies, most of them involving Burke, Hare and Dr. Knox (who are mentioned in this movie), but no other straight up adaptations of the story to my knowledge.
Click here to read my original review (June 16th, 2007).
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