Monday, 12 March 2012

The Greed of William Hart (1948)

The Greed of William Hart (or Horror Maniacs as it was known in the US), released in 1948, was the last of the great cycle of Tod Slaughter film melodramas. All were made very cheaply and rely almost entirely on Slaughter’s considerable screen presence. All are great fun.

Tod Slaughter’s long and very successful career was spent almost entirely in melodrama, on stage and on the screen. After his death in 1956 at the age of 70 he was soon forgotten but he has in recent years acquired something of a cult following. He is in fact one of the great horror stars, worthy to be ranked alongside names like Lugosi and Karloff. There was nothing remotely subtle about his performances but he was the quintessential melodrama villain, and always vastly entertaining.

The Greed of William Hart was originally entitled The Crimes of Burke and Hare but the threat of a lawsuit by the family of Hare forced the change in title.

The grisly careers of Burke and Hare inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story The Body Snatcher as well as countless movies. Among the most notable are the 1945 Val Lewton-produced The Body Snatcher and the excellent 1960
The Flesh and the Fiends, directed by John Gilling.

John Gilling in fact wrote the screenplay for The Greed of William Hart and served as assistant director.

In The Greed of William Hart the two murderers are Hart (Tod Slaughter) and Mr Moore (Henry Oscar). They supply cadavers to the noted Edinburgh surgeon and anatomist Dr Cox. Suitable fresh cadavers not always being easy to come by they have turned to murder in order to assure a ready supply.

Hugh Alston has his suspicions, as do the police, but without evidence no action can be taken. The disappearance of yet another young woman, the unfortunate Mary Patterson, proves to be Hart and Moore’s first slip-up. She was the niece of Dr Cox’s assistant and he recognised the body when it was delivered to the surgeon. But it is the over-confidence of Hart, combined with prodigious quantities of liquor, that will lead the murderers to make their fatal mistake.

On the whole the acting from the majority of the cast is wooden and unconvincing, but that doesn’t matter. Tod Slaughter was more than capable of carrying an entire film on his own and he’s in fine form. Henry Oscar as Mr Moore is rather good as well, and very creepy.

The production values are pretty much non-existent. This is a very low-budget movie. Oswald Mitchell directed and his approach is less than inspired. On the other hand Gilling’s script is quite serviceable. There’s no gore, this being a 1948 British production, but the subject matter is gruesome enough to inspire chills.

Unfortunately the only DVD release of this movie is the Alpha Video release, and the quality is truly dire, even by Alpha Video standards. Worse still, this print has been cut from the original 80 minutes to just 53 minutes.

If you’re a Tod Slaughter fan none of this matters. He’s such a delight to watch and so few of his movies are available that you’ll want this one anyway. If you haven’t yet discovered the outrageous world of Tod Slaughter then Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Red Barn or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street are better places to start. Or just grab the Alpha Video Tod Slaughter boxed set - all the movies included are tremendously enjoyable.

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