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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
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 »
The scene in the pub right after it's announced that MacFarlane sold Gray's horse and buggy for a mere four pounds and the new owner is embarrassed into buying him a drink. Right after the barmaid goes to fetch him one, Fettes enters the pub to talk to the Doctor. When the barmaid returns, she has two drinks. Yet she had no indication that MacFarlane was meeting anyone, and the doctor didn't know Fettes was looking for him. See more »
Val Lewton's THE BODY SNATCHER is one of the most "literate" films in the horror genre. Based on a short Robert Louis Stevenson shudder tale, it is the story of a young medical student, Fettes, in 1820s Scotland. Fettes is a promising doctoral candidate who has taken on an apprenticeship of sorts with a Dr. MacFarlane, a prestigious physician who runs a medical college. Todd MacFarlane is a very talented medical scholar of the academic sort, whose own past is tainted by an earlier acquaintance with the grave robbers Burke and Hare, who provided human specimens to his mentor, a Dr. John Knox.
Haunted by his past, MacFarlane is tormented and blackmailed by a "jack of all trades", a cab-man and grave robber John Gray. Gray, a working class man from the most impoverished sections of the urban poor, takes great delight in this power, and lords it over MacFarlane's household, which includes the doctor's wife- also privy to MacFarlane's secret- who poses as MacFarlane's housekeeper, in an awkward attempt to hide the roots of MacFarlane's own social climb. MacFarlane is also in need of Gray's continued "services", which Gray attends to with a sardonic relish. The younger medical student Fettes is pulled into the secrets of the household, which in the end, devour MacFarlane and his efforts to survive in the class structure of Scotland.
With THE BODYSNATCHER, Boris Karloff displayed his true depths as a performer, and outside of his original performance as the Frankenstein's monster and perhaps Columbia's THE BLACK ROOM (1935), there are few other films in his immense resume that really display what he was capable of as an actor. In THE BODYSNATCHER, he is at the top of his form. He is supported by actors Henry Daniell, Russell Wade and Edith Atwater, and the movie also marks his final appearance with Bela Lugosi. All of Val Lewton's technique is brought to bear in this work to offer the audience effective atmosphere, and tight pacing under the direction of Robert Wise. All in all, it is a remarkable work, an impeccable contribution to the genre that calls itself horror.
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