The Body Snatcher features one of Boris Karloff's best and most sinister performances, though it is the lesser known and lower credited Henry Daniell who spends more time on screen. Bela Lugosi, billed as Karloff's co-star, has a minor supporting role as Karloff's assistant. Despite (or perhaps because of) his brief screen time, Lugosi's performance is among the best of his career. Though he would continue to make films until his death in 1956, Body Snatcher is the last of Lugosi's "serious" horror films; his subsequent work would mostly devolve into parody. The production values are scant, as was the case with many RKO efforts from the 1940s, but producer Val Lewton (who also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Carlos Keith) and director Robert Wise create an eerie atmosphere that enhances the story. The film proved too strong for British censors, who kept Body Snatcher from being available in that country in its original form for more than fifty years.
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Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were given top billing in the Val Lewton-produced The Body Snatcher, but the film's protagonist is played by Henry Daniell. A brilliant 18th century London surgeon, Daniell can only make his humanitarian medical advances by experimenting on cadavers, which is strictly illegal. Karloff plays a Uriah Heep-type cabman who is secretly a grave robber, providing corpses for Daniell's research. The low-born Karloff enjoys blackmailing the aristocratic Daniell into silence; the two actors' cat-and-mouse scenes are among the film's highlights. Eventually, Karloff turns to murder to supply fresh bodies to Daniell. The doctor can stand no more of this, and kills Karloff. But though Daniell may be able to escape the law, he cannot escape his conscience, which manifests itself in the voice of the dead Karloff, whose repeated mantra "NEVER get rid of me! NEVER get rid of me!" drives Daniell to his death. Though billed second, Lugosi has an embarrassingly small part, though the scene he shares with Karloff is one of his best-ever screen moments. The Body Snatcher was based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, which in turn was inspired by the homicidal career of notorious grave-robbers Burke and Hare.