Dylan Thomas's screenplay was written in the 1940s, but plans to film it then fell through. His screenplay was published shortly after his death in 1953. The script attracted the attention of director Nicholas Ray in the mid-60s, although it was elaborately rewritten to transfer the action from Scotland to Vienna. Ray announced that he would make the film in Belgrade with Maximilian Schell and Susannah York, but the production was abandoned before shooting began. The project lay fallow for another twenty years. See more »
THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (Freddie Francis, 1985) **1/2
This is the third historical grave-robbing film I've watched after THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) and THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960) for the record, other cinematic versions of the same events out there are the Tod Slaughter vehicle THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART aka HORROR MANIACS (1948) and BURKE AND HARE (1972). While certainly the least of the three I'm familiar with (due perhaps to its graphic wallowing in the lurid details of the plot), it's pretty good for a product of its time (incidentally, the mid-1980s produced an unexpected but all-too-brief outburst of Gothic Horror which also included Franc Roddam's THE BRIDE  and Ken Russell's Gothic ).
The film was produced by Mel Brooks' company which had also been behind David Lynch's THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) which, incidentally, had marked Freddie Francis' own return to being a director of photography! Timothy Dalton as the overzealous doctor has a couple of good scenes in the first half, but he is clearly overshadowed by the more flamboyant turns of Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea as the nefarious night diggers. The impressive cast is completed by Twiggy, Sian Phillips, Beryl Reid, Julian Sands and Patrick Stewart; Twiggy (as another whore with a heart of gold) gets to sing as well and, predictably, medical student Sands falls for her charms.
I recall the film playing theatrically but, needless to say, I was too young to catch it back then. It's based on an original, unproduced script by celebrated Welsh playwright Dylan Thomas adapted here by future Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood; curiously, the names of the characters have been changed from the real ones of Knox, Burke and Hare so had been the case with THE BODY SNATCHER, for that matter, but that one had the excuse of being based on a Robert Louis Stevenson novella! Apart from the starry cast and the film's undeniably evocative look, its main asset is a spare, unusual but effective score provided by longtime Mel Brooks collaborator John Morris.
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