Corridors of Blood is a black and white film made in 1959. It was directed by Robert Day and stars Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee. It is a Criterion Collection film and can be found in the Monsters and Madmen boxed set.
Dr. Thomas Bolton, played by Karloff, is a surgeon in 1840s London. This is before general anesthesia, and surgery was performed without anesthesia. Bolton's dream is to find a way to make surgery painless. The movie is a concoction of horrific ingredients that follow Bolton in his noble quest: human experimentation, drug addiction, body stealing, extortion, brief scenes of surgery, with the patient fully awake during the procedure, and murder.
I did not know what to expect from the movie. Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee usually make me think of horror flicks. The movie did not go in the direction I expected and was all the better for it. It is not a traditional horror movie with a lurching or seductive monster. All the cutting (slashing) is done in the operating theatre, and there is the true horror, surgery and amputation without the benefit of any anesthesia or pain killer. I don't know much about medical or surgical history, so I do not know how accurate those scenes are, or how these surgeries were performed. Bolton was experimenting with several chemicals that we know dull pain, so it is probable that historically these chemicals were used as pain suppressants, but I just don't know without looking it up. And historical accuracy is beside the point of this movie anyway.
If you are like me, and you only know Karloff from his monster movies, give this one a watch. The heroes have faults, the villains are truly villainous, and the side characters are humans with good points and bad. Not at all what I expected from a Boris Karloff movie.