The Body Snatcher

Screening on Film
Directed by Robert Wise.
With Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell.
US, 1945, 35mm, black & white, 79 min.
Print source: HFA

Adapted from a Robert Louis Stevenson story, with Lewton finally allowing himself a screenwriting credit under his old pseudonym Carlos Keith, The Body Snatcher presents a characteristically detailed rendering of Victorian Edinburgh and the 19th century medical college. Boris Karloff follows Isle of the Dead with another naturalistic performance, this time as a mordant cabman who supplies a top doctor with all-too fresh cadavers. Ever intrigued by the conflicting impulses of reason and passion, Lewton quotes Hippocrates for a closing epigram: “All the roots of learning begin in darkness and go out into the light.” The Body Snatcher excels in giving supple form to that darkness: in the long shadows of the operating room, a street singer’s haunting disappearance into the night, and the spectacular collapse of the enlightened mind.

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The Glitter of Putrescence. Val Lewton at RKO

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