Mel Brooks knows that timing is everything in comedy. The same can be true about being able to properly exploit a movie. Brooks had scored an art house success when he produced The Elephant Man with director David Lynch. The film did amazingly well at the box office and raked in numerous Oscar nominations. So it didn’t seem that outrageous that Brooks would adapt Dylan Thomas’ script for The Doctor and the Devils. This was another tale of British medical doctor dealing with the lower class. Mel wisely put Freddie Francis in the directing chair. Francis was the cinematographer on The Elephant Man. Francis had made a few films for Hammer and Amicus so he knew how to bring a touch of horror onto the screen. The film had an amazing cast that included Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights), Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), Twiggy (The Boy Friend), Julian Sands (A Room With a View), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) and Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Yet the film fizzled upon release instead of repeating the success of The Elephant Man. Why? Maybe it was too dark.
The movie is based off the infamous exploits of Burke and Hare. These two men get renamed Fallon (Pryce) and Broom (Rea) by Dylan Thomas, but have the same attitude. The duo discover that there’s money in the dead. Turns out the medical schools of Edinburgh, Scotland are having trouble getting enough corpses for their anatomy classes. Dr. Rock (Dalton) is sick of having to do demonstrations on farm animals and telling the students how it’ll be different on a real person. It doesn’t appeal to those wanting a real education. The price of corpses rises quickly. This leads to a rash of grave robbing of the newly buried. Fallon and Bloom get into that game since the money can support their drunken desires. But there’s not enough people dropping dead. This leads to them realizing that they can make a killing in murder. They practice their own version of helping the nearly dead cross over. But they are far from being a hospice. It gets frustrating to them as they can’t find enough of the almost dead to assist. They must just find people who won’t be missed. As they turn into cold blooded killers, Dr. Rock gets questioned by his assistant (Sands) about the ethics of dealing with guys like Fallon and Broom. The assistant knows about the duo since he’s dating a hooker (Twiggy) who is part of that squalid scene. Rock can’t back down because he can’t look bad when compared to his rival medical school that’s led by Stewart. How long can he fund Fallon and Bloom with the suspicion of how they procure their bodies?
The Doctor and the Devils didn’t duplicate the success of The Elephant Man. Why? Perhaps it dwelt on he fact that there was no completely sympathetic character at the core. The hooker is relatively nice, but she’s more the potential victim than a tormented lead character. Dr. Rock is a bit too prideful to be openly embraced by audiences. Hard to see an audience in 1985 being ready to overcome such an issue. The cast is made of too many future superstars. Dalton was a few years away from being James Bond and Stewart hadn’t been cast as Picard so it lacked that ticket selling draw. The Doctor and the Devils is a fine movie about what can go wrong when medical ethics are bent for the sake of medical school economics. This seems to be the right time to appreciate what Mel Brooks put together.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The high definition transfer brings out the dirtiness of the sets. This is not a glossy version of Burke and Hare. The audio is 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio. You can hear a lot of grunting in the bar scenes. The movie is subtitled which is good help for some of the accents.
Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman gives a sense of the history of the actual events and Dylan Thomas. Haberman has worked with Mel Brooks in the past so he’s got an inside scoop as he talks about the production.
Interview with producers Jonathan Sanger,Randy Auerbach and Mel Brooks (15:42) covers how the project was put together. Mel admits he has to keep his name off projects for fear people expect fart jokes following his name.
Trailer (1:32) makes the film seem like a cheesy ’80s horror flick. This was not aimed at the audience who embraced The Elephant Man.
The Doctor and the Devils is a bawdy tale of what happens when people don’t ponder how the medical school got their cadavers.
Shout! Factory presents The Doctor and the Devils. Directed by: Freddie Francis. Original Screenplay by: Dylan Thomas. Starring: Timothy Dalton, Twiggy and Patrick Stewart. Rated: R. Running time: 93 minutes. Released: November 4, 2014.
Tags: Scream Factory