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Film Trivia 2021

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the body snatcher posterThe Body Snatcher features one of Boris Karloff's best and most sinister performances, though it is the lesser known and lower credited Henry Daniell who spends more time on screen. Bela Lugosi, billed as Karloff's co-star, has a minor supporting role as Karloff's assistant. Despite (or perhaps because of) his brief screen time, Lugosi's performance is among the best of his career. Though he would continue to make films until his death in 1956, Body Snatcher is the last of Lugosi's "serious" horror films; his subsequent work would mostly devolve into parody. The production values are scant, as was the case with many RKO efforts from the 1940s, but producer Val Lewton (who also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Carlos Keith) and director Robert Wise create an eerie atmosphere that enhances the story. The film proved too strong for British censors, who kept Body Snatcher from being available in that country in its original form for more than fifty years.

Cast: Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, Bela Lugosi, Edith Atwater
Directed By: Robert Wise
Genre: Horror
Runtime: 77 minutes
Language: English


By Brian Koller

What it's about. Respected surgeon Henry Daniell heads a medical school that requires a steady supply of cadavers, which are supplied by grave robber Boris Karloff. Daniell and Karloff have a sordid past between them, which Daniell seeks to be free of, while Karloff prefers to revel in it. Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story.

the body snatcher3How I felt about it. This curious movie places gloomy gus Daniell in the romantic lead, and he is the film's true lead although Karloff lands top billing. Bela Lugosi (a.k.a. Dracula) is also billed highly, but has only a minor role as a snooping and rather stupid blackmailer.

Karloff is very good as the charming yet ultimately evil coachman, who craves respect from Daniell and his earnest young assistant (Russell Wade). But it is not just Karloff's position, but also his subtly menacing manner and behavior, that alienates him from those who desires to supper with. Daniell's frustration with the persistent Karloff leads to a series of escalating confrontations, with a couple of surprises along the way. You know who gets the last laugh.

Wade plays an interesting character. Obviously, he means well, and his soul is incorruptible. But he hasn't got much willpower, and readily accedes to Daniell's requests, even when they are likely to get him into trouble.

the body snatcher7The Body Snatcher is technically a horror movie, because of its casting, title, ending, and themes. However, like many so-called horror movies, its true identity is a black comedy.

Dark humor is mined from Karloff's bantering of Daniell, who is too prickly to brush off the unwanted attention. Daniell's intensity also extends to his relationship with his wife. He settles one discussion with the observation, "You're a fey creature, Meg, with mad ideas. You have a wildness that holds me to you, my lass." With lines like that, who needs Shakespeare?

The comedy extends to Wade's regular but naive submission to the requests of others, and to Legosi's visit to Karloff's humble abode, where Legosi's ill-considered attempt at blackmail clearly amuses his shrewd and amoral host.

How others will see it. Classic movie fans, particularly those who like period pieces in jolly old England, will appreciate this cerebral horry entry.