Island of Lost Souls (1932) - After his ship goes down in the south pacific Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is rescued at sea. Thinking of his fiancee Ruth (Leila Hyams) he tries to get a message to her since it is going to seem to her that he is dead. Aboard the ship the Cavena he recovers from his ordeal of being adrift at sea. On the Cavena is a large collection of wild animals as well as some dogs. Mr Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) is a former doctor who is arranging the delivery of the animals and is not pleased with the Captain. The Captain a drunkard attacks first M'ling a part man part animal servant to Montgomery, Parker seeing this abuse responds by knocking the Captain out. It creates the situation where he is cast off the ship onto Dr Moreau's island instead of continuing on to his beloved Ruth in Apia (a town on the Upolu island in Samoa). It's actually a great scene with the Captain sucker punching Parker and tossing him overboard as his ship pulls out shouting to Moreau that Parker is his problem now.
Moreau (Charles Laughton) is an egomaniac scientist with a whip and he freely uses it on the creatures he and Parker pass on the way up to the house. Soon Edward has the full story through the delighted telling of it by Moreau. He is taking animals and making them human trying to perfect his techniques. Parker is appalled at the arrogance of the man. A man willing to torture the animals as he forces genetic change on them. All the Island creatures including the lovely Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke) are products of the mad scientist.
H.G. Wells book or seen the later versions of the films then maybe you would not know. This writer did though and was wonderfully surprised with the makeup and presentation of the animal men. In the special features of this Criterian Collection there is a conversation about makeup artists, Charlie Gemora and Wally Westmore, who performed the great work for this film doing makeup that really works.
Of course in the film genetics are not mentioned, to early for that. More we have the idea that all life forms are trending towards human and Moreau is just speeding the process along. Even though this is an incorrect scientific idea it is used to build the story. Moreau revels in his success the master of evolution, the creator of men. His amazing sexist joke about teaching the creatures to speak and his God complex is a serious problem for Parker. When Montgomery and Moreau get the idea to see if the Panther Woman would be physically attracted to Parker, they hope he and she will maybe mate. What an implication of sex? Oh they will only be watching for science's sake. Parker of course is attracted to the dark haired woman apparently a fine contrast to his blond fiancee back at home but when he sees her animal claws he is at his wits end.
There is a patriarchal arrogance of this film from Moreau's desire to create a woman and then tries to prove her humanity by getting her and Parker together. His first joke about how hard it was to teach the creatures to speak and Moneau's gleeful quip that it will be so much easier when he creates females. To how absolutely pissed Parker is to learn that Lota (Panther Woman) is an animal creature too. "Those creatures out there in that jungle were horrible enough, but to have created a thing as tragic as that girl, An animal with a woman's emotions, a woman's heartbreak, a woman's suffering, ah that's criminal." he continues " I could have overlooked those others, I could have shown you that much consideration, but not now. Now I will expose you to the world for what you really are Moreau." Wow all because he was attracted to Lota. If her hands had not started reverting to animal form Moreau may have fooled him. The attitudes toward women is from the original work by Wells a misogynist comes through all over this script.
The island full of partial man animals are lead by a creature who is played by the great Bela Lugosi credited as the Sayer of the Law. Which is interesting in itself with his impassioned presentation of the Laws Moreau hopes will control the beast he has somewhat turned into men. What is the Law? Not to run on all fours. Not to eat meat, not to spill blood. With the iron fist of an animal trainer Moreau has taught them to fear him. They recite, His is the hand that makes, his is the hand that kills, his is the house of pain. "Are we not men?" This seems a temporary solution to this viewer but that may be prior knowledge of the story. What really sells this film is the magically ego filled portrayal by Charles Laughton. He breaths so much life into the part that it really is amazing both cruel and creepy he really is so good. The he turns to get what he wants from scuttling the boat Parker was going to use to leave, just so he can get Lota to hook up with Parker. Other roles are also well filled, from Lugosi's beast man to Richard Arlen as Parker and Hohl as Montgomery full of self loathing, all are really great in this film. Moreau is the mad scientist like Frankenstein, which came out the year before he thinks he is above god and that his creations are under his thumb. Frankenstein conquers death through science, Moreau conquers evolution. This film is a A level film but because Universal was having such success with Monster movies this film which is more serious was not well received.
When Ruth (Leila Hyams) arrives on the island we move towards the climax of the film. Reunited with Parker she and he want to immediately leave the Island but it is a dark and dangerous place. Since the animal men have seen her there is a rumble down under for some of the males seeing a lovely blonde woman. Getting back to the absolute crazy approach to women Moreau sees that the man beast are very interested in Ruth and sets it up so there is a chance one can get into her room and rape her. He sees it as a natural extension to trying to hook up Lota and Parker. This idea is even too horrible for Montgomery and he expresses to Moreau his anger at the decision. After a creature tries to get to Ruth she Parker and the Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) who brought her decide enough is enough. Davies heads through the jungle in the night to get his crew. Moreau sends a beast man after him with permission to kill him. The biggest mistake of his life since these simple creatures have their world view completely destroyed. They see that men can die and so make the connection that Moreau can also die. The bringer of pain can die. Moreau is so arrogant that he thinks with his whip he can contain the situation. An animal trainer who gets too over confident that he can not recognized the gravity of the situation. His grave ending can not be said to be not deserved.
In the end the island is destroyed by fire with Montgomery, Parker and Ruth fleeing to Davies ship in what is a sudden end. A really great film worth renting or buying this one is very mush recommended.