Island of Lost Souls (1932)

It seems odd that the only good attempt at filming H.G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, had an entirely different title.

Paramount made Island of Lost Souls the year after Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein hit the screen and it’s fairly obvious they were trying to cash in on the horror boom.

Even after all these years, it remains a singularly eerie film.  Perhaps the best part is Charles Laughton’s performance as Moreau.  When we first meet him, he seems quite charming only there’s something just a bit off about him:  he keeps smiling at just the wrong times.

Okay, we all know that the novel’s Moreau wasn’t your typical mad scientist.  Instead, he’s supposed to be a work-obsessed scientist who doesn’t seem particularly worried – or interested – by any ethical questions about his work.  No matter.  Laughton is out and out brilliant.  Who cares if he got it right?

Bela Lugosi is totally wasted in a minor role, and the rumors that Buster Crabbe, Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd play beast men probably aren’t true.  But Kathleen Burke’s panther woman is so good that it just about ruined her career.

The real standout scene is at the very end, when Moreau’s creations turn on him.  It must have been a real shock back then, but it still maintains its power even now. Somehow I doubt that a modern director, working without the cultural limits Erle C. Kenton had to meet, would ever manage to match it, no matter how much viscera he threw at the screen.

 

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