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
Although based on a fictional short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author came up with the idea from actual events occurring in 19th century England and Scotland, particularly those of grave robbers Burke and Hare. See more »
At the very beginning, they show a castle during the credits, then "In Edinburgh In 1831-" then show a closer up of the same castle and a horse and carriage, and you can clearly see two or three automobiles parked next to the castle. See more »
[Donald sits on a tomb in a graveyard and offers a bit of his lunch to a dog sitting on a nearby grave]
Here. Here's a bit of something for you.
[the dog growls angrily]
Now, now, laddie. I only wanted to be friendly.
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Closing credits epilogue: "It is through error that man tries and rises. It is through tragedy he learns. All the roads of learning begin in darkness and go out into the light" Hippocrates of Cos See more »
Also shown in a computer-colorized version. See more »
("When Ye Gang Awa, Jamie")
(Traditional Scottish folk song)
sung by Donna Lee See more »
Still chilling after all these years
I first saw this film on a late-night horror program in my pre-teens. Back then it scared the living daylights out of me and started a life-long love of the work of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I'm pleased to say so many years on, it still has the power to grab me.
Admittedly, its dated in some ways. The obviously American actors trying to get their tongues around the Scottish-style dialogue is pretty laughable at times but the gothic atmosphere of RL Stevenson's book is captured admirably. The love-interest between Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) & Mrs Marsh (Rita Corday) seems like something that should've been developed properly or cut - it goes nowhere. The character of Meg Camden (Edith Atwater) is beautiful played but never given a chance to really fly. Likewise with Bela Lugosi's Joseph, but his big scene with Karloff is just great.
In this low-budget film, Val Lewton & Robert Wise still manage to pull out all the stops, using superb lighting (esp of Karloff's cadaverous face), echoing sound (Cabman Grey's horse "clip-clopping" on the cobblestones) and the wonderful scene where the cat sitting on the mantlepiece witnesses "Toddy" MacFarlane (the wonderfully imperious Henry Daniell) grappling with Karloff's Cabman Grey. All we see are macarbe shadows dancing on the wall. As with many great movies of the period & genre, its the implication of violence that makes us sit up and take notice. (For the last word in this technique, check out the shower scene from Hitchcock's Psycho).
Tame compared to contemporary horror but the final scene especially is still chilling after all these years.
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