Body Snatcher, The (1945)

The Body Snatcher (1945), produced by Val Lewton, directed by Robert Wise.

First review

From the RL Stevenson story. Doctors in 1830s Edinburgh need cadavers for anatomy studies. With a limited supply, what do you do?

This period thriller is stiffer than others in the Val Lewton series, with the young hero being particularly wooden. Some of the actors have Scots accents, others don't. Nonetheless it was a smash hit.

Henry Daniell and Boris Karloff save it. Their mutual hatred and nasty bantering is vastly entertaining. Karloff was particularly grateful to Lewton for getting him out of the monster movies, and is quoted as saying things like "he saved my soul" and "brought me back from the dead". Many Karloff fans think this is his best performance; he is hypnotically evil, but this is disorienting because the object of his malice is no angel either.

Robert Wise contributes a commentary track for the DVD, but it is not specific to this film. Another commentator gives some ghastly details on the historical facts behind the story, as well as more history of the production.

Second review

Perhaps in appreciation of the new Blu-ray I am seeing deeper into the film this time, finding even more profound corruptions of the soul:


Karloff: You're a fool, Toddy, and no doctor. It's only the dead ones you know.

Daniell: I am a doctor. I teach medicine.

Karloff: Like Knox taught you? Like I taught you? In cellars and graveyards? Did Knox teach what makes the blood flow?

Daniell: The heart pumps it.

Karloff: Did he tell you how thoughts come and how they go? And why things are remembered and forgot?

Daniell: The nerve centers, the brain.

Karloff: What makes a thought start?

Daniell: The brain, I tell you, I know!

Karloff: You don't know and you'll never know or understand, Toddy. Not from Knox or me would you learn those things. Look, look at yourself. Could you be a doctor, a healing man with the things those eyes have seen? There's a lot of knowledge in those eyes, but no understanding. You'd not get that from me.

Our principle players:

It's a great film when any combination of the three are on screen. The rest is filler and tends to drag it down, particularly the stiff Russell Wade as the medical assistant. That's too bad. The costumes and sets have a static quality common to films of that era.

Roy Webb score.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. On a commentary track the director gives an account of his early career and this film. This is followed by thoughts from film historian.