Fairly maligned but, in retrospect, reasonably enjoyable version of the
notorious body-snatching double act – played here by Derren Nesbitt (a
regular in director Sewell's work) and Glynn Edwards (surprisingly, for
a title role, played by a prolific character actor rather than a star
or even a familiar face); both men are now married and their spouses
get wind of their nefarious activities before long. The end is also
closer to the truth, with Hare turning State's Evidence (eventually
dying blind and destitute), leaving Burke to hang alone, and Dr. Knox
(a typically full-blooded Harry Andrews, with an eye-patch over his
right eye and given to cracking dirty jokes for his colleagues'
amusement!) – the eminent surgeon they sold the bodies to – being
expelled from his profession but subsequently setting up a traveling
medicine show! Oddly enough, the rivalry between Knox and the other
surgeon-lecturers is all but inexistent here!
The style is agreeably redolent of Hammer Films (nicely book-ended by recreations of period illustrations dealing with the case), though like the brand-new John Landis rendition, the tone is bawdily comic rather than the sleazy seriousness adopted by two more British treatments of these events (unfolding in 1820s Edimburgh) by notable directors – John Gilling's THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959) and Freddie Francis' THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985), both of which I had reviewed soon after their first viewing. For the record, the screenplay is the handiwork of Ernle Bradford; his major claim to fame was penning the bestselling chronicle of The Great Siege of Malta of 1565 and, not only is a street in my hometown named after him, but he was to die on our shores in 1986!
The brothel scenes (ostensibly demonstrating Knox's students' leisure time, as well as provide convenient victims for the titular duo, but all-too-obviously mandated by the new-fangled permissiveness) feel rather like padding – incidentally, former Hammer starlet Yutte Stensgaard appears briefly as one such prostitute (which she unconvincingly plays drunk much of the time!). One unexpected asset, however, is a rollicking folk-tune sung by The Scaffold during the film's opening and closing titles.
I do not know if the copy I acquired is culled from the film's DVD edition (through Redemption) but it came accompanied by an interesting 12-minute 'lecture' featuring an unusual-looking (displaying tattoos and piercings galore!) female Professor who, amongst other things, parallels the real-life Dr. Knox's dabbling in body parts so that others may live with the literary figure of Baron Frankenstein attempting to re-animate composites of dead tissue (especially since both came by them illegally).
Two men go into business supplying medical colleges with cadavers by robbing graves.
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