Sunday, May 6, 2012

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Dashing Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is the victim of a shipwreck. Lucky for him, he is picked up by a passing ship that has a doctor as a passenger. Foolish of him, he punches the captain (Stanley Fields) over how he treated a dog-eared man. So, Captain gets back at him by dropping him off, along with the good doctor and his cargo of exotic animals, at his first port of call instead of taking him back to California, where his hot blond Fiancee' (Leila Hyams) waits patiently for him.

The island's owner, Doctor Moreau (Charles Laughton), isn't too keen to have an unexpected visitor, but appears helpful enough. Maybe Mister Parker can aid him somehow in his research! Gosh, the natives look awfully peculiar ...

This is the film first attempt at H.G. Wells' "The Island of Doctor Moreau", and maybe the best. Wells himself was still alive to hate it and caution people from seeing it. Spoil sport. Anyhow, Paramount was trying to come up with a movie more shocking, more terrifying than anything Universal was producing at the time. They may have over reached. This was after the Hays code was in effect, but before they started enforcing it. Somehow themes of rape, vivisection, and bestiality got through the censors.

The end result is a fantastic movie with great acting and atmosphere to spare. When Paramount tried to re-release it a couple years later, the board said, umm, No. It was banned in Britain for twenty six years. Localities everywhere insisted that various scenes and lines cut ("Do you know what it means to feel like God?") making the movie a distributed patchwork. Luckily, there is a complete version that modern audiences can watch. Under different circumstances, classic horror lists might post Lost Souls above Dracula and Frankenstein (IMdb ranks it higher than Dracula).

And much of the credit goes to Laughton. No conflicted mad scientist is he. He simply LOVES what he does and doesn't for a moment doubt the outcome. Know that feeling you get when you're wearing something absolutely luxurious to the touch and eat something decadently delicious? That's how Moreau feels when he carves up living beings without anesthesia and listens to them scream. Simply delightful.

Bela Lugosi had a small but exceptional role as the Sayer of the Law. Not willing to wear makeup to be Frankenstein, it would seem he recanted to be all but indistinguishable here, recognizable only by his voice. Mark this as one of his best rolls. Also, recognize the name of Hyams? She also appeared in another banned pre-code movie, Freaks, which I recently watched again. Available on Amazon Prime. Luckily the controversy didn't stunt her career. She continued to work until the ripe old age of 31.

Before returning the disk to the library, I watched all of the commentary (man, does Landis love the sound of his own voice!) and rewatched it with commentary (in a mob scene, a beast-man accidentally lights the head of another beast-man!). Unfortunately that was before I purchased my Samsung LED. The picture on my old CRT was dying and some of the subtleties of the movie were lost. AMRU 4.5.
"Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): We are Devo!"

No comments:

Post a Comment