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The first and best of the three Val Lewton-Boris Karloff collaborations for RKO (ISLE OF THE DEAD and BEDLAM would follow), THE BODY SNATCHER is an excellent adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's short story, scripted by Lewton himself (under the pseudonym Carlos Keith) and directed with
considerable skill and admirable restraint by Robert Wise. This chilling and atmospheric tale of grave-robbing in 1832 Edinburgh features Henry Daniell as MacFarlane, a doctor who regularly buys cadavers that are delivered to his back door by menacing cabbie Gray (Karloff). When Gray turns to
murder in his quest for bodies--and delivers the still-warm corpse of a young street singer MacFarlane had seen alive and well only that morning--the frightened doctor realizes he must do something about it. MacFarlane is finally driven to murder Gray, but is eventually driven mad. Literate, but
not at the expense of the cinematic, THE BODY SNATCHER is one of Lewton's greatest works and contains what is arguably Karloff's finest performance. Lewton's obsession with historical detail is evident throughout, and, although the film was shot on the lot at RKO, the filmmakers manage to create
an unforgettable vision of Edinburgh through judicious use of sets, lighting, camera placement, sound, and editing. Also featured--mainly for marquee value--was Bela Lugosi in a small role as MacFarlane's servant Joseph. Although Lugosi and Karloff had only one scene together, it was a great one,
and was the last gasp of respectability in Lugosi's sad career.