Film Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

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Charles Laughton plays H.G. Wells’ mad scientist in the first film version of The Island of Dr Moreau. It’s a reasonably faithful adaptation until the halfway point, where it gets as loose as the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. Wells’ provocative suggestions about man’s animal nature remain largely submerged in the movie’s Saturday matinee atmosphere.

Leading man Richard Arlen (so striking in 1927’s Wings) is good in scenes with Kathleen Burke, who is credited only as ‘The Leopard Woman.’  Her character is a studio concoction designed to drive the film’s marketing, but she turns out to be one of the more interesting facets of the movie.

Wanting to take his dastardly experimentation to the next level, Moreau tries to get Burke to mate with Arlen. After the two have finally locked lips, Arlen feels her scratching into his back. He looks at her fingers and sees cat-like claws, suddenly realizing that he’s romantically entangled with something not quite human.

Provocative stuff, but this version and the others after it (one in 1977 and another in 1996) are just scraping the surface of a potentially far more fascinating study. Look for Bela Lugosi as the ape-like Sayer of the Law.

Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 

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About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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