In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_mv5bmjmwotq0ntuymf5bml5banbnxkftztgwndg3nduxnde_._v1__sx1259_sy630_

Timbuktu

A work of almost breathtaking visual beauty that manages to ravish the heart while dazzling the eye simultaneously, neither at the expense of the other.

Thumb_mv5bmtg4mjuxodczm15bml5banbnxkftztgwmdy4mjy0mze_._v1__sx1216_sy712_

Son of a Gun

Avery’s more than capable behind the camera, he just needs to be met halfway by his screenwriting, which dwells in overly familiar territory.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

The Doctor and the Devils

  |  

It is impossible to discover, on the evidence of "The Doctor and the Devils," why anybody connected with this movie thought it should be made. It is unredeemed, dreary, boring, gloomy dreck unilluminated by even the slightest fugitive moment of inspiration or ambition. It's an utterly depressing movie, not just because of its subject matter (murder and the sale of cadavers) but because neither tragedy nor humor are allowed to distract from its dogged progress from one dead scene to another. 

The story involves an unholy alliance in 19th-century England between a brilliant young anatomy professor named Thomas Rock (in real life, named Robert Knox), and two grave-diggers who observe that he pays better for fresh corpses than for maggoty ones. So, they meet the market demand by suffocating homeless people from the slums and delivering the bodies, sometimes still warm, to the doctor's lecture chambers. The doctor's assistant warns him that they are purchasing the victims of murder, but the doctor replies that he is a scientist, not a moralist, and must advance the cause of knowledge. 

The movie is "based on a screenplay by Dylan Thomas." Somehow I doubt that the original treatment by Thomas ended the way the movie does, with the heroic young doctor rescuing Twiggy from the clutches of the corpse-merchants. The original source for all of this material is one of my favorite books, "Criminal Chronicles," by William Roughead, an early 20th-century London court reporter who laboriously researched the court records on the juiciest Victorian murder trials, and retold them in lurid detail. 

You'd think it would be hard to make murder uninteresting - especially the scandalous series of body-snatchings sponsored by Dr. Rock. But "The Doctor and the Devils" succeeds. It is a very expensive production, handsomely mounted on elaborate sets that recreate early Victorian slums, gin halls and bawdy houses quite convincingly. But no spark of energy is allowed into the telling of the story. 

Dr. Rock (Timothy Dalton) comes across as a constipated prig, his assistant (Julian Sands) comes across as Horatio Alger, and the murderers are grisly caricatures, scurrying around the streets with fresh corpses slung over their shoulders. The only ray of sunshine comes from Twiggy, as a tart. She looks great now that she's put on some weight. 

Material like this has to be aimed in one of two directions. Either (a) it should be sensationalized as it was in Boris Karloff's "The Body Snatcher," based on the same material, or (b) it should be turned into a deep, morbid psychological study. "The Doctor and the Devils" takes a drab middle road, as a sort of docu-drama about necrophilia as the disease of the week.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Gratitude

A note of thanks from Chaz Ebert to the wonderful people behind "Life Itself."

Thumbnails 1/26/15

"Selma" is more than fair to L.B.J.; "American Sniper" increases threat against Muslims; Struggle over Vivian Maier's...

They're All Gonna Laugh At You: The "Carrie" Remake

A look at Kimberly Pierce's 2013 version of "Carrie."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus