The Doctor and the Devils
Jonathan Sanger, Mel Brooks (executive) for Brooksfilms, 20th Century Fox
directed by Freddie Francis
starring Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Twiggy, Julian Sands, Stephen Rea, Phyllis Logan, Lewis Fiander, Beryl Reid, T.P. McKenna, Patrick Stewart, Sian Phillips, Philip Davis, Philip Jackson, Danny Schiller, Bruce Green, Toni Palmer, David Bamber, Nichola McAuliffe, Deirdre Costello, Terry Neason, Paul Curran, Merelina Kendall, Dermot Crowley, Sarah Melia, Stephen Yardley, John Horsley, Jack May, Rachel Herbert, Simon Shepherd, David Parfitt, Simon Adams, Jeff Rawle
screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on an original screenplay by Ronald Harwood
Burke and Hare
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Edinburgh, the 19th century: Doctor Rock (Timothy Dalton) is a
progressive university professor, teaching surgery to his students.
However, the corpses he is supplied with to demonstrate his art on his
students leave a lot to be desired, most show more than a hint of decay
and are in a horrible condition. Two of his regular graverobbers, Fallon
(Jonathan Pryce) & Broom (Stephen Rea) take his complaints seriously,
and since they figure they could get double for a fresh body, well, they
start producing fresh corpses - as in killing people. The first who
notices that the corpses are a bit too fresh is Rock's assistant Murray
(Julian Sands), but when he tells Rock, Rock turns a deliberate blind eye
to it, favouring science over moral issues. So Fallon and Broom have a
steady income for the longest crime, and since they only prey on the
riffraff of society nobody will miss, their murders remain uninvestigated
or even undetected for the longest time. Then though, Fallon and Broom
have a party with two prostitutes, Alice (Nichola McAuliffe) and Jennie
(Twiggy), and Fallon insists on murdering them and sell them while Broom
insists it's time to move on and ultimately beats it. Fallon kills Alice
and brings her to Rock, but when Murray sees the woman, he recognizes her
- basically because he is in unrequited love with Jennie and knows the two
are best friends and inseperable ... and now he desperately rushes to
Jennie's rescue. Suffice to say, he saves her, and after Broom turns
witness to the prosecution and goes free, Fallon is sent to the gallows
and Doctor Rock is chased out of Edinburgh.
Patrick stewart plays the
head of Rock's university.
This thinly disguised adaptation of
the Burke and Hare-story has everything going for it, a
brilliant cast, a director who understands how to handle period horror,
and a macabre basic plot to begin with - and yet, teh film falls flat on
its face. Basically, the script is to blame: Sure, the thing is well
researched, gives the conflict science vs morality plenty of room, and
tries to get its period right - which results in the film being filled
with not characters but stereotypes, not dialogue but empty phrases, not
narrative build-up but dull lecturing. Furthermore, there are no tension,
suspense, shocks, and the macabre details are so toned down they are
hardly there anymore.
In all, a very disappointing bore.