The Body Snatcher
the body snatcher | robert wise | philip macdonald | val lewton | boris karloff | bela lugosi | henry daniell | burke and hare | burke | hare | novel | short story | united states | thriller | true story
Film: The Body Snatcher
Director: Robert Wise
Writer: Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Henry Daniell
This film begins informing of that we are in Edinburgh in 1831. We get an idea of what the city is like during this time. We then meet Russell Wade. He is a medical student and he is sitting in a cemetery having lunch. He tries to feed a dog that is there, but he won’t take the food. An older woman then appears to feed him.
We then see a carriage pull in front of a house. The driver is played by Boris Karloff. Emerging from his carriage is a mother, played by Rita Corday, and he daughter, played by Sharyn Moffett. Moffett was in an accident with a carriage and is paralyzed from the legs down. They ring the bell and Edith Atwater appears. She is the maid of this house. She doesn’t seem to care for Karloff. Corday and Moffett are there to see the man of the house, played by Henry Daniell.
He is a great doctor, but now is a teacher. He doesn’t have good bedside manner anymore and Moffett doesn’t allow him to check her out. He then calls in Wade, who is his medical student. Wade is much better with the young girl and she explains what is wrong with her. She is taken to an examining table where Daniell finds that she has a tumor on her spine that is causing this. Corday thinks he will do the surgery, he tells her that he does not practice anymore, that he only teaches now. There is no one else to help her.
Daniell is impressed with Wade, but he tells Daniell that he will be leaving medical school. Daniell won’t allow this and makes Wade his assistant. I will also point out that this time that Daniell and Atwater are actually secretly married.
One of the major jobs of being the assistant is that Wade needs to receive the bodies that are given to them by the counsel for autopsies and practice. Karloff is the one that delivers the body that night. He is paid ten British pounds for his services. The problem though is that the next day, the cemetery that Wade was at previously had an incident with a grave robber. This robber also killed the dog.
Also living and working at Daniell’s is Bela Lugosi. He works as a janitor and ensures that the tables are clean for the students.
Wade and Daniell go out for drinks and are joined by Karloff. Daniell doesn’t like this and is upset. Karloff loves that he is bothering Daniell. He continuously calls him a name that Daniell tells him not to call him. During this, Wade gets Daniell to agree to do the surgery on Moffett.
The next day Daniell meets with Corday and Moffett to share the good news. The problem though is that when he returns to the house, Daniell tells him that he cannot do the surgery and should not be held responsible for the deal he made while being drug. This is to the dismay of Wade, but he does get him to change his mind. The problem is that they do not have a cadaver to practice on.
Wade goes to visit Karloff about getting a body to them as soon as possible. On his way over, he met a street singer who is quite beautiful; she is played by Donna Lee. Later that night, Karloff does come through with a body. The only problem being that the body is that of Lee.
Will Wade turn Karloff in? Lugosi goes to blackmail Karloff, will he survive this plan? Will Daniell perform the surgery on the young girl? Or will it not even work? What will happen with this odd business arrangement?
I have to say that this is an interesting concept that is based on a real case, the case of Burke and Hare. This film actually brings them up by name and even has Karloff and Daniell being involved in their crimes they were punished for. I am all for them adding to the real case to make it fictional, because I found it to be creative. I thought the acting was pretty solid across the body. The music that accompanied the scenes definitely helped set the mood as well.
The biggest gripe that I really encountered was with Daniell. I get that he is a teacher, but he is also a doctor. I don’t see why he was so dead set against helping Moffett. I can see not having the practice with this surgery, I also see that he doesn’t want to make things worse or kill the young girl. I feel like the mother and daughter both understood the risks. Daniell is a pretentious character though so I could see it. I also think it is a bit odd on the choice of person by Karloff. He legitimately killed someone right outside where he lives. Now he does move the body, but still.
Now with that said, I liked this film. The acting was good across the board, which is helped by a small cast of characters. The concept and story of this film are good. I like that they referenced the real case, but then also incorporate it into the story of this film. I do feel that the problem with this film and films from the era, they do not have subplot, which would lengthen the film as well as deepened the story. I do feel like some of the characters do things a little out of what is believable, but not enough to ruin this film. I will say that this is from the 1940s and in black and white, so please keep that in mind before seeing this. I would say give this one a viewing if it sounds interesting though, you have two of the best characters in the genre ever.
My Rating: 7 out of 10