The Body Snatcher (film)
|The Body Snatcher|
|Directed by||Robert Wise|
|Produced by||Val Lewton|
|Screenplay by||Philip MacDonald
|Story by||Robert Louis Stevenson|
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||Robert De Grasse|
|Edited by||J.R. Whittredge|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|May 25, 1945|
The Body Snatcher is a 1945 horror film directed by Robert Wise based on the short story The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. The film's producer Val Lewton helped adapt the story for the screen, writing under the pen name of "Carlos Keith". The film was marketed with the tagline The screen's last word in shock sensation! The frequent mentions of Burke, Hare, and Dr. Knox, all refer to the West Port murders in 1828.
The year is 1831 in Edinburgh. A mother stands in mourning over her son's grave. A medical student, Donald Fettes, reassures her that her son's body is secure in its final resting place.
Mrs. Marsh visits the house of Dr MacFarlane. She is seeking a cure for her daughter Georgina, who is paralyzed from the neck down. Dr MacFarlane calls upon Fettes, one of his students, to examine the girl and see what can be done. Afterwards MacFarlane suggests surgery for the girl, but he cannot perform the operation himself because his teaching position disallows the practice of medicine. Mrs Marsh is devastated by this.
Later that night, Fettes confesses to the doctor that he is forced to give up his medical studies because of lack of funds. The doctor offers Fettes a job as a lab assistant to help with an experiment he is planning. The doctor also confides to Fettes that not every cadaver that is dissected by him or the students comes directly from the local morgue.
Fettes is awakened in the middle of the night by a loud pounding on the door. It is John Gray, a local cab driver by day and grave robber by night, who has arrived to deliver another corpse to the doctor. It is the body of a young boy.
The next day, Fettes is strolling near the cemetery when he sees the same woman whom he met earlier. The woman is carrying a dead pet dog that had been watching over her son's grave. Fettes feels remorse and regrets his involvement in the procurement of cadavers. He gives a letter of resignation to MacFarlane, but the doctor refuses to accept it. The doctor claims that experimenting on human specimens is utterly necessary for the progress of medical science.
MacFarlane and Fettes go to the local inn to meet with John Gray, who taunts MacFarlane. Fettes mentions the case of Georgina Marsh. Gray mocks the doctor for not performing the surgery, implying that he lacks the skill to do it. Gray threatens to expose MacFarlane's "dark secret" if he doesn't perform the surgery. The doctor surrenders to the pressure.
MacFarlane later tries to renege on his promise to perform the surgery, claiming that he lacks an adequate spinal specimen to use for practice. Fettes remedies this by asking Gray to get another human specimen for the doctor. While visiting Gray, Fettes gives a coin to a blind street singer. He is shocked when Gray arrives later at the lab with a corpse that resembles the singer.
Fettes shows MacFarlane the body and accuses Gray of murder. The conversation is overheard by Joseph, the doctor's other assistant. MacFarlane tells Fettes that he could be arrested as an accomplice, and advises him not to notify the police.
Georgina recovers from the surgery, but she is still unable to walk. MacFarlane is tortured by his failure. He goes to the inn to console himself with drink. Gray torments the doctor and teases him about their "secret".
Joseph visits Gray and blackmails him, demanding money for his silence about the body snatching operation. Gray tells Joseph the story of Burke and Hare, two infamous murderers who were hanged for procuring bodies for Dr Knox, MacFarlane's mentor and predecessor. When Gray is finished telling his tale, he lunges and strangles Joseph. Later he delivers the body to MacFarlane's lab as a "gift". MacFarlane angrily confronts Gray. Meg, MacFarlane's housekeeper and secret wife, recalls that Gray admitted robbing graves during the Burke and Hare trial to shield the real perpetrator, MacFarlane. Meg warns Fettes, and tells him to leave town immediately before he becomes another MacFarlane.
MacFarlane offers Gray money to stop tormenting him and to dissolve their association. Gray refuses to take the money, and vows that the doctor will never be rid of him as long as he lives. MacFarlane attacks Gray and the two men struggle. The doctor beats Gray to death.
Fettes meets with Mrs Marsh and Georgina. As Fettes and Mrs Marsh discuss their disappointment at the result of Georgina's operation, the girl hears horses nearby and stands up to see them; the operation was a success after all. Fettes rushes to tell MacFarlane the good news, but Meg tells him that the doctor has gone to another town to sell Gray's horse and carriage.
Fettes finds MacFarlane at a tavern in that town. The doctor tells Fettes that he plans to rob a freshly dug grave. Fettes sees no alternative than to assist the doctor. During a terrible storm that night, they commit the deed. They load the unearthed corpse onto Gray's carriage.
As they drive through the storm, MacFarlane believes he hears the voice of Gray taunting him from the back of the carriage. He stops the carriage and orders Fettes to check the body. When he uncovers the body and shines a light on it, MacFarlane sees Gray's corpse. The horses, spooked by the storm, bolt. The carriage breaks loose and falls over a cliff with MacFarlane and the corpse. Fettes looks down at the wreck, and sees the dead body of MacFarlane. Next to him lies the corpse of a woman.
- Boris Karloff as Cabman John Gray
- Béla Lugosi as Joseph
- Henry Daniell as Dr. Wolfe "Toddy" MacFarlane
- Edith Atwater as Meg Camden
- Russell Wade as Donald Fettes
- Rita Corday as Mrs. Marsh
- Sharyn Moffett as Georgina Marsh
- Donna Lee – Street singer
- Mank, Lugosi and Karloff, p. 516
- Jacobs, More Than a Monster, pp. 300–304
- Hanson, AFI Catalog, p. 270.
- Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1971). AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52021-521-4.
- Jacobs, Stephen (2011). Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. Tomahawk Press. pp. 300–304. ISBN 978-0-95576-704-3.
- Mank, Gregory (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-3480-0.
- The Body Snatcher at the Internet Movie Database
- The Body Snatcher at the TCM Movie Database
- The Body Snatcher at AllMovie
- The Body Snatcher at Rotten Tomatoes