Friday, April 17, 2009

The Body Snatcher (1945), Robert Wise.

Even when the sun shines in Edinburgh it's easy to feel trapped in a stone maze surrounded by ghosts. This film, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's short story of the same name, captures that atmosphere quite well. This shows how resourceful Val Lewton and his crew could be, because this was not shot anywhere near Edinburgh but in California, using scraps of old movie sets including one for the Hunchback of Notre Dame! Lewton's Bs demonstrate how creativity can overcome budget limitations. Just compare this with The Devil Commands, which also stars Boris Karloff, and tell me audiences didn't get way more bang for their buck. In this one, Karloff escapes from playing one-note monsters. His grave robbing Cabman Gray is played so well that even this bullying, menacing character manages -at least for one split second- to seem sympathetic. He is an excellent adversary for the story's central character, a respected but morally conflicted physician played by Henry Daniell.

This DVD, from the Val Lewton Horror Collection, has an enjoyable commentary by director Robert Wise who sheds light on how Bs worked. Wise explained that studios would have produced around sixty films a year, of which forty-odd were B's. Although he had only been a film editor up to that point, Wise was offered to direct this film because the current director had been unable to stay on the tight schedule that such an output demanded from B directors. While perhaps not an environment conducive to self-indulgences, the Bs seemed to have been a place where those who were willing to play the game could transform their careers.

No comments: