Island of Lost Souls

04/21/2022 06:29

Film: Island of Lost Souls

Year: 1932

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Writers: Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie

Starring: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi and Richard Arlen



This was a movie that I feel like I heard the title but didn’t realize that it was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. I read this book in high school. I don’t remember a lot from it if I’m honest. This movie version appears in the Fangoria Top 300 Horror Movies issue and The Horror Show Guide encyclopedia that I’m working through, so by watching it for this Trek through the Twos, it also helps me with my master list of movies to watch. The synopsis for the movie is a mad doctor conducts ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of shipwrecked sailor who finds himself trapped there.

For this movie, we start on a ship. It comes upon a man who is clinging to a lifeboat. They pick him up. Montgomery (Arthur Hohl) nurses him back to health. When the stranded man wakes up, he relays that his name is Edward Parker (Richard Arlen). He was on his way to Apia where he is to marry Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams). A message is sent ahead to alert her to what happened and when he will arrive.

Edward gets his strength up and goes up to the deck. He is talks with Montgomery, who fills him in on the reason for this voyage. Through this man, Edward sees that there are a bunch of exotic animals and dogs. They’re bound for an island that belongs to a Dr. Moreau. Edward then meets Captain Davies (Stanley Fields). He is a drunkard who doesn’t get along with Montgomery. Edward doesn’t like the way that Davies is treating Montgomery’s servant M’ling (Tetsu Komai). This causes them to get into a tussle.

Davies gets his revenge though. This vessel meets up with Dr. Moreau’s (Charles Laughton), the animals are all loaded. Before they go their separate ways, Edward is thrown overboard. Montgomery tries to convince Davies to change his mind, but he won’t hear any of it. Dr. Moreau sees an opportunity and allows Edward to come back to his island. He also agrees to let Montgomery use his boat the next morning to take Edward to Apia.

They arrive on the island of Dr. Moreau. Edward sees that the natives are odd looking. They are primitive in nature. Dr. Moreau has Edward as his official guest. There is another purpose here though. Dr. Moreau has been conducting experiments as the synopsis told. He has Edward in mind for another one. Dr. Moreau has Edward meet Lota (Kathleen Burke), the only woman on the island. She fears him and Montgomery, so he wants to see what she does when meeting Edward. The two hit it off, but Edward will soon learn the horrible truth about this island.

All the while, Ruth is waiting for her fiancée. She inquires with the American consulate as well as Captain Davies when his ship comes to dock. He doesn’t hide what he did and Ruth won’t sit idly by to wait. She finds Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) and has him take her to the island as well.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie as there isn’t a lot to the story. To bring back up what I said earlier, it has been some time since I’ve read this book. I did remember what Dr. Moreau was doing on this island. That stuck with me all these years as it is a great and horrific premise. This movie is quite interesting in what they do. I don’t remember the set up and if it is the same here, but I can believe it. It shows that Edward has morals when he is on Captain Davies’ ship so it makes sense to what he does when on Dr. Moreau’s Island. I’m there for that.

If you don’t know the story, I am going to reveal here that Dr. Moreau is taking animals and through surgery is making them into human like creatures. M’ling is one of them as is Ouran (Hans Steinke). Lota is as well as in the opening credits where she is referred to as the Panther Woman. The Sayer of the Law is also Bela Lugosi. We also get a bunch more on this island. They’re led by Dr. Moreau who is played amazingly by Laughton. He does so well at being a villain.

I think this will take me to the biggest part of social commentary. What is interesting here is that the beasts outnumber him. They could revolt whenever, but their minds seemed to be primitive. I’m assuming part of this is what they’re made of. The other part is the lack of education. This is an interesting allegory to the world even today. We have this small, rich class that rules the world. If the rest join, they can overthrow it. The problem is that not enough get riled up enough to unite the masses. On a smaller scale we see that playing out here. While watching the supplemental material on by Blu-Ray, I learned a bit more. The creations on the island see Dr. Moreau as their maker. That is also why they don’t turn against him. This will also take me to my next point as well.

The other commentary I wanted to bring up has to do with Dr. Moreau. In a nutshell, he is playing God on this island. He has created this race of animal people. He would be an Old Testament version though as he rules with fear. His creations don’t want to go back to the House of Pain. He also has ingrained in them a set of laws that Sayer recites. The laws are to not eat meat, not to run on all fours and not to spill blood. This last one becomes problematic for something that happens later in the movie with Dr. Moreau.

Since I’ve already said my thoughts on Laughton’s portrayal of Dr. Moreau, I’ll go to the rest of the acting here. I thought that Arlen is fine as our lead here. It does well in setting up his character before getting him to the island. He fit this part well. Hyams is solid in her minor role. I The same for Lugosi and Burke along with the rest of the creations. I did also like Hohl. He is a broken character that has an arch that I liked. Aside from that, the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

I think then the last things to go into would be the effects, cinematography and soundtrack. For the former, they look solid. They had to go practical and it works for me. There are distinct creations which I thought was good. Sayer of the Law looked different from M’ling and Lota different from Ouran. The care there was impressive. The cinematography is solid as well. It feels like we are on a remote island. What I read was that it was done on Catalina Island with set dressing to look wild. I didn’t have an issue there and the Criterion Blu-Ray I watched this on looked good. The last thing then would be the soundtrack. I thought it fit to build the atmosphere. It got my anxiety going with what they did with the chanting of the creations on the island. That all worked well together.

In conclusion, I’m glad that I finally saw this movie. It was one that I didn’t know about until getting more into the history of horror and cinema. This is an interesting adaptation of the Wells’ novel. I love the idea of Dr. Moreau on this island playing God. His creations live in fear until they’ve had enough. The look of the creatures is distinct and well done. I like the effects there. The cinematography helps to make it feel like we’re on the island. The soundtrack helps to build the atmosphere that this movie needed. I would say that after this first watch, this movie is a good movie that is hovering just below being great for me. If you like movies from the 1930s, I would give this a view if you haven’t.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10