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The Body Snatcher [Boris Karloff]

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The Body Snatcher  (1945) starring Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, Bela Lugosi

The Body Snatcher is considered by many to be Boris Karloff’s finest role–and they may well be right.   Unlike what the trailer for the movie says, this is not a team-up between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.   Both appear in  The Body Snatcher, but in this tale Lugosi is strictly a secondary character, although important. And the scene between the two of them is definitely the most chilling of the film. “Stand still, man! How can I demonstrate if you won’t stand still?”

The Body Snatcher, starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henri Daniell
The Body Snatcher, starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henri Daniell

Setting the stage

But first, some background information.    The Body Snatcher is set in Edinburgh 1831.   A prestigious doctor, Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane (played well by Henry Daniell) runs a school for surgeons, and he offers a promising, but poor, student named Fettes a position working for him so that the young man can afford to continue his education.  

Boris Karloff as The Body Snatcher

However, the school is acquiring corpses for the students to practice on in a highly illegal way–employing a grave robber named John Gray (played excellently by Boris Karloff), who is also a cabman — and who holds some hold of blackmail over the well-known Dr. MacFarlane.

Dr. MacFarlane initially refuses to operate on a young crippled girl, but after Fettes imploring, he accedes–but the girl still can’t walk, although Fettes and her mother continue working with her.   The main plot deals with the negative influence that John Gray has over “Toddy” MacFarlane–a nickname that MacFarlane hates, and that Gray loves to use.   Gray’s main goal in life appears to be lording over Dr. MacFarlane at every opportunity.

Bela Lugosi’s character

Dr. MacFarlane’s servant, Joseph (played well by Bela Lugosi) makes the mistake of trying to blackmail Gray  — having found that Gray has begun resorting to murder to acquire new corpses.   In the most chilling scene in the movie, Gray makes Joseph think that he’ll cut him in for a share of the future profits – before choking him to death while “demonstrating” how he kills his victims.

MacFarlane becomes desperate to become a free man and escape Gray’s blackmail, but I won’t spoil the ending for you; I will, however, strongly recommend that you see  The Body Snatcher for yourself.   It’s one of the most chilling horror movies that I’ve ever seen; one where the monsters are all too human.

Editorial review of The Body Snatcher (1945) starring Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, Bela Lugosi, courtesy of

Synopsis: Boris Karloff (“The Crimson Cult,” “House of Evil“) stars as a cabman who steals recently deceased bodies to assist in the medical experiments of Dr. MacFarlane, played by Henry Daniell (“The Suspect“). Bela Lugosi (“Dracula“) co-stars in this classic thriller. The film is the last one to pair the talents of Karloff and Lugosi.

Movie quotes from  The Body Snatchers

Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane (Henry Daniell): What is Gray to me? He’s a man from whom I buy what I need when I need it. The rest is forgotten.
Meg Camden: You may deny him, Toddy, but you’ll not rid yourself of him by saying the devil’s dead.

Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): I am a small man, a humble man. Being poor I have had to do much that I did not want to do. But so long as the great Dr McFarlane comes to my whistle, that long am I a man. If I have not that then I have nothing. Then I am only a cabman and a grave robber. You’ll never get rid of me, Toddy.

Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane (Henry Daniell): Gray, I must be rid of you. You’ve become a cancer, a malignant evil cancer rotting my mind.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): You’ve made a disease of me, eh, Toddy?

Lugosi and Karloff

Joseph (Bela Lugosi): I know you kill people to sell bodies.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): You say you came here of your own account. No-one sent you, no-one knows you’re here?
Joseph (Bela Lugosi): Give me money or I tell the police that you murder the subjects.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): Well, Joseph, you shall have money, why should you not? I don’t suppose the great Dr MacFarlane is over lavish with his pay?
Joseph (Bela Lugosi): No.

Grave robbers

Mrs. Mary McBride: He’ll not leave the grave – not since Wednesday last when we buried the lad.
Donald Fettes: Your son, ma’am? He must have been a fine boy for the wee dog to love him so.
Mrs. Mary McBride: A great kind lad he was – gentle with all things like Robbie. Now I can’t get the dog to leave here. Perhaps it is for the best. I’ve not money enough to afford a grave watcher.
Donald Fettes: Not much danger here, ma’am, I wouldn’t think – right here in the heart of Edinburgh.
Mrs. Mary McBride: They’re uncommon bold, the grave robbers – and the daft doctors who drive them on.

Driving away John Gray?

Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane (Henry Daniell): If you’ve any regard for your neck, you’ll leave now and stay away from my house, from my school, and from me.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): Well, I’ve no wish for a rope cravat. I never like the smell of hemp. So I’ll bid you good night, Dr McFarlane.

Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): You’ve no need to be anxious, Meg. MacFarlane has been drunk and away before. He’ll be back in good time. Meanwhile, you have me to keep you company.
Meg Camden: I call that no good fortune.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): [laughs] There was a time, lass, a time when I used to bring the dashing young doctor to your door, but you weren’t so uncommon cold to your old friend Gray.

Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): I’m a pretty bad fellow myself, but MacFarlane’s the boy – Toddy McFarlane I call him. Toddy, order your friend another glass.[to Fettes]
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): Toddy hates me.
Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane (Henry Daniell): Don’t call me by that confounded name.
Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff): Hear him! Did you ever see the lads play knife? [thrusts a knife into a loaf of bread]  Toddy would like to do that all over my body.
Donald Fettes: We medicals have a better way than that. When we dislike a friend of ours, we dissect him.

Closing title: “It is through error that man tries and rises. It is through tragedy he learns. All the roads of learning begin in darkness and go out into the light.” Hippocrates of Cos

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