Doing bad for a greater good…

Val Lewton’s “The Body Snatcher,” (1945) opens up in Edinburgh circa 1860′s. A sinister coach driver John Gray, played fabulously by Boris Karloff, supplies bodies for Dr. Wolfe MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) and his unaware  assistant Donald Fettes (Russel Wade) for dissecting and lecturing. Although grave digging at the time was illegal, Dr. MacFarlane over looks that for the great cause of science. The dark story based on Robert Louis Stevenson book, and loosely based on a true crime committed in England back in the early 1800’s by a couple of scoundrels named Burke and Hare, which are mentioned in the movie a few times, even in song. Yes, this actually happened, in fact, because of The West Port Murders the Anatomy Act was passed in 1862. I guess you can call this movie a sequel to the true story, or a continuation as John Gray is a former confederate of Burke & Hare. And Dr. MacFarlane knows it, but continues the “business” arrangement anyway.

The Convo...

The Convo…

Skeletons in the closet…

Because of MacFarlane’s past history with “grave robbers,” he is taunted, tormented and blackmailed by the cabman, turned grave robber, John Gray. Gray is a working class guy from a very poor area of the city, but with a lot of power over many, and lets MacFarlane know it. Gray knows all the secrets of this seemingly distinguished doctor, including one about the doctor’s wife, who poses as the doctor’s housekeeper, which says a lot about how the good doctor climbed the social ladder. Gray also knows that the doctor is in great need of bodies, which Gray attends to with much relish. Eventually the doctor’s doe-doe bird assistant finds out all the secrets, and  MacFarlane’s sinister world implodes.

Hold on class…I gotta dig it up first

 

My Take…

This has got to be Boris Karloff’s best performance ever! Karloff as the wicked, dark, stop-at-nothing, yet full of contradictions, killer is stellar! I say full of contradictions because we see a soft side to this villain making it impossible at times to believe he was soulless. Of all the characters in the film, it is Karloff’s that is the most interesting, and due mostly because of how Karloff performed the role. Henry Daniell as the icy,  tortured, abused, faux “gentleman” doctor is probably the second best character in the film. And when Karloff and Daniell share the screen, they both sparkle, in fact, it’s magic. The cameo appearance of Bela Lugosi was a treat. Although little time is given to Lugosi, the murder scene is spine chilling and unforgettable. Seeing the well-known two boogeymen share the screen was almost poetic!

The use of lighting, props, and sounds like Gray’s carriage riding in the dark and cobblestone streets, the singing little girl who becomes one of Gray’s victims, reeks of death and coldness. The empty, foggy, streets of Edinburgh gives us a sense of impending doom, and menace. It’s as if dark spirits are lurking about watching for whom to devour. There is no gore in this film, most killings in the film are implied and as we see in most Lewton films sound is used effectively in these scenes. Don’t know about you, but sound is a lot more unnerving, it leaves a lot to your imagination. That was Lewton’s way of thinking; leave it all to the imagination, or to our worst nightmares.

The Cab-man

Not only is The Body Snatcher a psychological horror story, it’s a good study of guilt, and greed. It is a story of a doctor who thought that by doing bad things, he was also able to do good, and it didn’t matter if the bad things got the best of him. The good doctor “Toddy” learned a day late, and a penny short that evil is all consuming and will shout loud and clear, you’ll “Never Get Rid of Me..” This film is a keeper indeed and be sure to watch it with lights out ok! I give this film a 5! This post is part of the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man &  Kristina of the Speakeasy blog  – see more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page   or the Speakeasy Lewton page

 

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2 Responses to ““Never Get Rid of Me:” The Body Snatcher”

  1. thanks so much for taking part in this! so true about the “less is more” approach not only worked then, but lasts & makes old movies stay creepy. Scary bit about this one is what you point out: lots of evil and the worst evil, done by those who believe they’re doing “good”
    all the best, Kristina

  2. Thank you Kristina for having me participate! I really had a lot fun!

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