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In Edinburgh in 1831, Dr. Wolfe MacFarlane runs a medical school where Donald Fettes is a student. Fettes is interested in helping a young girl who has lost the use of her legs. He is certain that MacFarlane's surgical skills could be put to great use but he is reluctant to do so. The good Dr. MacFarlane has a secret that soon becomes all too obvious to young Fettes, who has only recently been promoted as his assistant: he has been paying a local cabbie, John Gray, to supply him with dead bodies for anatomical research. Gray constantly harasses MacFarlane and clearly has a hold over him dating to a famous trial many years before where Gray refused to identify the man for whom he was robbing graves. Fettes isn't aware of any of this but soon realizes exactly how Gray obtains the bodies they use in their anatomy classes. Written by
One could easily argue, as I surely will attempt to do so, that this film, The Body Snatcher, based on the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson and produced by the wonderfully creative and inventive producer Val Lewton, is the home of Boris Karloff's best performance. Some will argue that his portrayal of Frankenstein's creature was his greatest role, and I would not argue with that. But his role as Cabman Gray is his best performance as an actor. It gives us a chance to see the real Boris and his entire acting range. He plays with relish a character wicked as can be , yet full of contradictions. This villainous rogue that steals bodies from graves and then creates bodies through murder is given an amiable side. He is the most interesting character in the story. He is the core of the story, and it is all due to Karloff's wonderful and witty portrayal. The story is excellent as our the other actors in the film, most notably Henry Daniell as the doctor abused and tormented by Karloff and past secrets. Although this was the last film to have both Karloff and Lugosi, it is a lopsided affair as Lugosi is given very little screen time and an even smaller role as a blackmailing servant. The best scene with both of them is the murder scene of Lugosi's character, and it is one last glimpse of the two great boogeymen sharing the screen once more together. Outstanding film, competent direction, and excellent acting make this film one of the better horror films of the 40s and one of Karloff's finest moments on the screen period.
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