Hooptober 2022 #32: The Body Snatcher (1945)

There’s two kinds of old friends. The first are people you want around you. These people you can talk to at any point or pick up conversations you had years earlier. You know they’ll support you through anything. You want them around you.

Then there’s the old friend you don’t want around. This person knew you at a time you would rather forget. They might have been a toxic presence in your life you wanted out. You try to cut them out but they crawl back no matter what.

The Body Snatcher is about a friendship that haunts Henry Daniell’s Dr. Wolfe MacFarlane. MacFarlane is a respected, if brusque doctor. Medicine is an academic pursuit for him and less about seeing patients. He runs a medical school with many students. However, his school needs bodies for these studies. For this he relies on Boris Karloff’s John Grey. Grey is an unfortunate reminder of MacFarlane’s less than glamorous past. He would rather forget the man but well, they have a business relationship.

Grey has the power in their relationship. He’s a congenial but there’s menace in his delivery. Death hangs around him and not just because Karloff plays him. He’s known MacFarlane for years, even before he became “the good doctor”. He calls him by his nickname Toddy both as a form of contempt and to keep the doctor in check. MacFarlane can put on the airs of a gentleman but he’s still a desperate medical student to Grey.

However, The Body Snatcher shows us their relationship isn’t parasitic but symbiotic. MacFarlane’s school can’t exist without the bodies he provides and Grey can’t make a living without providing them. They are two halves of one man. Both are driven by their desires; MacFarlane by his pursuit for knowledge and Grey by his need for money. When a young girl needs spinal surgery, Grey needles his old pal Toddy into performing it. If he has to kill people so his “friend” can perfect surgical techniques, so be it. MacFarlane will just look the other way. Murder means nothing in the pursuit of science.

The horror of The Body Snatcher lies in what these men do in their pursuits. The film centers around a toxic relationship fueling both men to evil. Nothings off limits if gets them what they want. It’s a reminder that some friendships should stay in the past.

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