Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Body Snatcher

Year 8, Day 292 - 10/18/16 - Movie #2,470

BEFORE: Boris Karloff carries over from "Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde", and I think you can see where I'm going with this, I'm going to link to the remaining Universal Frankenstein films, which TCM ran a couple weeks ago.  Their "Star of the Month" is Frankenstein (or perhaps more accurately, Frankenstein's Monster - shame on you, TCM) and in addition to the Universal films, they've also recently acquired the rights to the Hammer Films movies.  But I can't get to those this year, with only a few Halloween slots left.  

I do have a birthday coming up this week, so it's a perfect time to confront not only getting older, but my own mortality.  Last week I finally disconnected my home phone service, as it's no longer needed, but I had that sinking feeling when I realized I wasn't going to be listed in the phone book any more.  On some small level, a part of me ceased to exist, and that doesn't feel comforting.  One day I won't exist any more, and I guess I'll be too dead to care about it, but that doesn't feel comforting, either. 

THE PLOT: A ruthless doctor and his young prize student find themselves continually harassed by their murderous supplier of illegal cadavers.

AFTER: Turns out this film has nothing to do with "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", which was first released 11 years later, in 1956.  That film is about aliens, and this one is more literal, about a man who robs graves.  And like "Dr. Jekyll & Mister Hyde", this one's based on a short story from Robert Louis Stevenson.  

When I was a young boy, I thought I might grow up to be a veterinarian, and if my life had taken a different series of turns, perhaps that was a possibility at some point.  But dissecting frogs and pigs in biology class led me to believe that I probably didn't have the stomach for it, and anyway, I liked cats and dogs too much to ever cut one open, even in a medical way, or worse, have to put one down, even it that were for the best.  (I don't know that I'd even have the courage to kill animals for food to stay alive, I'm a child of the modern world and enjoy food most when it's delivered to my door, and someone else did the dirty work.)

As a result, what I know about modern medicine is largely theoretical - but we've only had real doctors for a few hundred years, and even discoveries about germs and how to prevent infections are relatively recent developments.  So imagine the state of medicine in the Victorian age, just a few decades shy of believing in things like bloodletting and balancing the body's humours.  Most people at the time wouldn't even dream of donating their bodies to science, because most Churches were against it - so what were the medical doctors supposed to practice on?  A lack of cadavers certainly didn't help the advancement of medical science, so enter the go-between, the "Resurrection Man", aka the grave robber.

If the morality seems a little bit questionable, the film tries to justify it by showing us a darling little girl who's in a wheelchair.  The physician who can help her walk again finally agrees to perform the operation that could help her walk again, but he won't do it unless he can practice the surgery first on a cadaver.  I mean, come on, what's he expected to do, crack open a book and read someone else's notes about a similar surgery?  That's hardly the same thing, since they only have illustrations and not photos!  That's practically barbaric?  Nope, it's better to get a freshly-dead person and cut him or her open and do the same surgery as practice.  And if the dead person gets up and walks, well, then he knows he's done it right.

Here's the only problem, though - this grave robber doesn't seem willing to wait until the next funeral to get the body the doctor needs, he'd rather collect his fee right away, and that means making the next corpse happen.  Hey, gots to get paid, right?  There's such balance in life, this person has to die so that one can live.  Er, walk.  But you know what I mean.  What I can't accept, however, is the fact that he had to kill the dog that was guarding a young boy's grave.  I mean, it's a DOG, man, it never did anything wrong to anyone.

The grave robber, Gray, also has some dirt on the good doctor, and not the kind you get buried in.  It seems that when he was arrested before for stealing bodies (go figure), he refused to name the party that hired him.  Because snitches get stitches - and nobody likes a rat.  Gray kept quiet, and he never let "Toddy" forget about it.  But that guilt is a funny thing, it will follow you around and consume you.  The last act of this film seems to incorporate parts of Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart", as the doctor takes to a little grave-robbing of his own.  The movie also makes reference to Burke and Hare, and a little wiki research tells me they were famous murders in Edinburgh who sold their victims' bodies to a doctor for use in his anatomy lectures.  At the very least, it's an efficient way to dispose of evidence.

Also starring Henry Daniell (last seen in "Lust For Life"), Bela Lugosi (last seen in "The Wolf Man"), Edith Atwater (last seen in "Family Plot"), Russell Wade, Rita Corday, Sharon Moffett (last seen in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House").

RATING: 4 out of 10 carriage rides             

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