“You’re an amazingly unscientific young man.”
“Are we not men?” Fun to imagine young Devo watching this in the 70’s and inverting the mad scientist’s intentions for their de-evolution theories. There’s even Devo-specific content on the Criterion disc, which I need to rent sometime.
Based on the HG Wells novel Island of Dr. Moreau which was remade a few times, with Burt Lancaster then Marlon Brando as Moreau. Here it’s Charles Laughton (same year as The Old Dark House), reveling in his role of the kindly accomodating villain, the calm and rational “mad” scientist with a whip. Laughton may have just invented camp in cinema, beating Bride of Frankenstein by a couple years. All the fun in the movie comes from Laughton along with the creatures whom he has forced to rapidly evolve in his surgical “house of pain”: slinky, sexy Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke, who next appeared in Murders in the Zoo) and fur-faced servants including M’ling (Tetsu Komai) and the Sayer Of The Law (Bela Lugosi, the year after Dracula).
No fun at all comes from our obligatory decent romantic couple: Richard Arlen (also the obligatory romantic lead in Thunderbolt) and Leila Hyams (also the obligatory romantic lead in Freaks). He was hitching a ride on a trading ship when he argued with the captain and got dumped at Moreau’s, and after he’d failed to show up, his fiancee Hyams teams up with some other captain named Donahue and goes searching. Donahue doesn’t make it out, nor does “doctor” Montgomery, a morally grey character who works with Moreau. And Moreau has compared himself to God – never a good idea in a movie, so we know he’s doomed as well.
The movie’s pretty good overall, with cool creatures and a perfect dose of Laughton, but it also serves up a smarter ending than expected. Laughton has built his dominance over the semi-evolved creatures through intimidation (the whip, House of Pain) and The Law, which forbids killing. But when he orders one monster to kill the captain, the others have enough of a grasp of logic to realize that “law no more,” and go on a Moreau-and-island-destroying rampage.
Kenton also made some Lon Chaney Jr. horrors in the 1940’s. Adapted from the Wells story by Philip Wylie (who’d also work on Wells’ The Invisible Man) and Waldemar Young (Love Me Tonight, Desire) and shot by Karl Struss (Sunrise).