THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
Article #504 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-1-2002
Posting date: 12-25-2002
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Okay, enough of the holiday cheer…on to the review.
A cabman supplies bodies for a doctor who teaches medicine to students.
I read somewhere that Val Lewton was less than thrilled to learn he would have to use Boris Karloff in his next movie, as he perceived him as being the standard boogeyman that he was trying to avoid using in his horror films. This was until he actually met and talked to Karloff, and discovered that they were actually on the same wavelength. It was from Lewton that Karloff would receive some of the most complex roles in his career, and THE BODY SNATCHER is their triumph. Gray is a fascinating individual; even though he robs graves and murders to supply his bodies, he has an honest affection for children (the opening scene of him talking with the crippled girl is not the least bit creepy, as his affection for children is obvious and sincere; in real life, Karloff himself loved children) and ends up being the prime force that contributes to the healing of the little girl (even though it involves murder and blackmail). He also has a cat that he loves. Dr. MacFarland, however, is cold and somewhat mean-spirited; you end up liking the cabman much more. In fact, the whole movie is about moral ambiguity; it’s very hard to make easy moral judgments about much of what happens, because so much of it is tied to curing the little girl. Karloff’s performance is magnificent; in Danny Peary’s “Alternate Oscars” book, he claims Karloff should have won an Academy Award for his performance, and I have to agree.
One sad thing about the movie is the presence of Bela Lugosi, once again shuttled off to a minor role as a servant. He does quite well in this small role, and he gets billing above Henry Daniell who plays Dr. MacFarland, but the movie is such a triumph for Karloff that you almost forget Bela is there. And though Karloff would work with Lewton twice more, this would be Lugosi’s sole collaboration with Lewton.