The True Tale Behind The Body Snatcher

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Producer Val Lewton knew a good story when he saw one, and The Body Snatcher captures Lewton’s signature style, where the sinister is felt and not always seen…

1. A true story inspired the chilling tale.

In the 19th Century Scotland, laws mandated that only the bodies of prisoners, orphans, or those who committed suicide could be used for medical experiments. As grave robbing became popular, Burke and Hare made history when they sold their murdered victim’s bodies. Robert Louis Stevenson, known for Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wrote a short story inspired by the duo entitled “The Body Snatcher”.

2. Bela Lugosi was written into the script.

Executive Producer at RKO Jack Gross wanted Lugosi added to the picture and added that the actor play his part as a hunchback. Lugosi signed his contract on the day filming began, October 25, 1944, and even though his role was rather small, he received second billing after Karloff.

3. The screenwriting credit is a nom-de-plume.

The script is credited to “Carlos Keith”, who actually represents screenwriter Philip MacDonald and producer Val Lewton. Lewton did the original treatment, and MacDonald wrote the screenplay. Some believe MacDonald didn’t want sole credit in case the film didn’t perform well, while others indicate that the shared credit was to honor Lewton, whose ideas were heavily incorporated.

4. Scenes were removed from the script and film.

The original script included scenes with grave robbing and dissecting and pickling bodies which didn’t adhere to the Motion Picture Production Code as enforced by Joseph Breen. These unacceptable scenes were cut, but when the final film went up for review, it again ran into issues with mentions of the notorious killers Burke and Hare, so these references were nixed before the release.

5. “Moderate” stars were sought for the other roles.

In seeking to fill the other roles, Lewton hoped for actors with some name recognition to help the film. Before Henry Daniell was cast, his role was considered for George Coulouris, Albert Dekker, John Emery, and Alan Napier. Ann Carter, known for Curse of the Cat People, was also considered for the role of a young patient, but ultimately rejected because producers felt she looked too healthy to play sickly.