Charles Laughton - Dr. Moreau
Richard Arlen - Edward Parker
Leila Hyams - Ruth Thomas
Kathleeen Burke - Panther Woman
Bela Lugosi - Sayer of the Law
Arthur Hohl - Montgomery
Erle C. Kenton - Director
Waldemar Young - Screenwriter
Karl Struss - Cinematographer
Arthur Johnston - Score
H.G. Wells - Original Novel
Although H.G. Wells disapproved of it, this is a remarkably fine adaptation of his novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. The script was co-authored by Philip Wylie (his first), a Science Fiction writer whose seminal novel, When Worlds Collide (1932) was impressively filmed in 1951. The superb cinematography of Karl Struss (who had shared the first Academy Award for photography with Charles Rosher for Sunrise by F.W. Murnau, 1927) benefitted considerably from Earle C. Kenton's persuading paramount to shoot the film on location.
Charles Laughton gives a magnificently chilling performance as Moreau, the fiendish, whip-cracking scientist whose experiments in surgical grafting between humans and animals have produced a pathetic series of bestial mutants, kept under hypnotic control by regular assemblies devoted to a liturgical changing of the master's "law" (with Bela Lugosi as his beast-man foreman, "Sayer of the Law"). Richard Arlen is the shipwricked adventurere whom Laughton tries to mate with his panther-woman creation (Kathleen Burke), and Leila Hyams is Arlen's fiancee who comes to his rescue.
Although less suave than Count Zaroff of The Most Dangerous Game (1932)--in spite of his Mephistophelean goatee, Laughton's Moreau looks sweaty and rumpled compared to the impeccable Zaroff--Moreau is his blood brother in the mind. Moreau's equivalent to Zaroff's cool intellectual sadism, again suffusing the film with a perverted eroticism, is his plot to have Arlen mate with Burke--the beautiful woman he has created from a panther but who is already reverting--just to see what the results of cross-breeding will be.
Interestingly, though, Island of Lost Souls anticipates King Kong (1933) in its embodiment of the underground spirit of revolt, a spirit extremely timely in its appeal to victims of the Depression years, who not only resented their material deprivations but were all too willing to blame a system which appeared to thrive on an arbitrary suspension of the individual's inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. The delirious final revolt here, with the master dragged away to the "house of pain" in which he created his subservient brutes, echoes the wilder excesses of the French Revolution.
Presumably because of its vivisectionist aspects, the film was banned in several countries, including Britain until 1958, and attacked by Wells for changing the central character from a kindly man to a sadistic monster. Lost somewhere among the beast-men are Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd. First filmed in France in 1913, the Wells novel was remade as Terror is a Man (1959). Two lurid remakes followed in 1977 and 1996 as The Island of Dr. Moreau.
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
A selection of Island of Lost Souls films.
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A selection of Island of Lost Souls in books.
A History of Horror
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