Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1945. RKO Radio Pictures. Screenplay by Philip MacDonald, Val Lewton, based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Cinematography by Robert De Grasse. Produced by Val Lewton. Music by Roy Webb. Production Design by Albert S. D’Agostino, Walter E. Keller. Costume Design by Renie. Film Editing by J.R. Whittredge.
Early Robert Wise feature produced by Val Lewton that bears a striking resemblance to the kind of stuff Hammer Horror would specialize in later on. A young medical student works for a doctor (Henry Daniell) and puts away his discomfort when an unpleasant man (played by Boris Karloff) shows up bearing cadavers and demanding payment. Daniell is hoping to expand the knowledge base of medical science but the law forbids him to use human subjects, so he pays Karloff to dig up bodies from cemeteries in the dead of night and bring them to him. The student, played with honorable charm by Russell Wade, begins to suspect something diabolical is happening, that perhaps Karloff isn’t waiting for people to be dead before harvesting their bodies; he’s afraid to risk telling his boss because he also cares about a lame little girl that the good doctor is going to hopefully cure through a risky operation. Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, this one emphasizes dread more than suspense, beautifully photographed and given a great deal of strength by the sincere performances. Karloff is at his most ornately seductive, oozing his malevolence through a series of perfectly delivered dialogue that sounds like honey dripping from his evil lips, and sadly outshining Bela Lugosi, who here appears as the doctor’s nosy assistant.