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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Samuel Z. Arkoff and his American International produced this second film adaptation of H.G.Wells’ 1896 novel. The first was Island of Lost Souls in 1932, starring Charles Laughton. Arkoff’s film used the novel’s title: The Island of Dr. Moreau (IDM). Burt Lancaster stars as the doctor. Michael York plays the unfortunate sailor. Barbara Carerra stars as “the woman”. Richard Basehart plays the Sayer of the Law.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Andrew Braddock (York) and fellow sailor, Chuck, had been adrift in a lifeboat for 17 days before washing up on a remote Pacific island. Chuck disappears to unseen shadowy creatures while Andrew looked for water. He runs to escape pursuers, but falls and knocks himself out. He comes to in a bed, tended by a man named Montgomery. He is in the compound of Dr. Moreau. Andrew is immediately entranced with the lovely Maria (Carerra). Andrew learns a bit of Moreau’s vague work, and even sees a partially humanized bear-man on Moreau’s table. Andrew and Maria meet up for some caressing and implied furtherance. The next day, Andrew sees the finished bear-man, which Moreau treats more like an animal. Andrew, determined to confront the shadowy beasts in the surrounding jungle, takes a rifle and searches. He finds a cave. In the cave, are the beast men. The Sayer of the Law has them all recite the laws, all ending in “Are we not men?” A cat man (reverting to his wild cat-self) attacks Andrew. Dr. Moreau’s sudden appearance (and gunshot) ends the fight. Montgomery hauls off the errant cat-man to get a booster treatment. Later, the lion-man fights with a real tiger at a watering hole and kills the tiger. Moreau discovers this and confronts the beast man. Killing is against the Laws. The guilty lion-man run away, pursued by the pack of beasts and Moreau. Another beast-man leads Andrew on a short cut. They find the wounded and exhausted lion-man, who urges Andrew to kill him so he doesn’t have to endure Moreau’s house of pain. Andrew shoots him, but this scandalizes the beast men. Andrew and Maria pack to flee the island in the patched up lifeboat, but Moreau captures Andrew and injects him with animal serum to study the process in reverse. Montgomery objects, so Moreau shoots him dead. The beast-men see this and realize The Law is no more. M’Ling puts Montgomery’s body outside the compound where the beast-men find it and realize that men can die. Moreau comes looking for Montgomery’s body and is chased and mauled by the beast-men. He dies inside the compound. The beast-men attack the compound, trashing the place and setting fires, as well as releasing the caged animals, which in turn attack the beast-men. In the melee, Andrew and Maria escape to their boat. The vengeful cat-man pursues. After a bloody fight, Andrew wins and the pair drift away into the vast ocean. Eventually, a ship finds them. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Since the screenplay follows Wells’ novel fairly well, the power of the original story still shines through. Lancaster does a fine job as Moreau: at times affable, yet at other times unhinged.

Cultural Connection
Science Playing God — Inherent in Wells’ novel, and still present in IDM is the notion of “cold” science tampering with nature, dabbling at being a creator. Modernized, this Moreau dabbles in GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). While this somewhat nullifies Wells’ “House of Pain” device, it does move the story into modern science-ethics discussions. Moreau, as symbolic of dispassionate science, changes things to suit some lofty future potential “good” for mankind, quite unconcerned about the pain and damage caused along the way. At one point, Moreau shouts, “I created you” as if the beast-men owed him respect (not hatred). The take-away: Man makes a poor god.

Based on the Book — Wells’ novel came out in 1896. IDM was the first film adaptation to use the novel’s title, but it wasn’t the first film. There was a silent film in 1913. The 1932 “talkie” starring Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls followed the book closely in some ways, yet added Hollywood-isms in others. IDM is somewhat similar in following the book’s plot fairly well, but taking a few of its own liberties. IDM repeated the “panther woman” element introduced in the 1932 film. (more on her below). IDM compressed some plot elements, which allowed for a faster pace. A difference added in IDM is that Moreau uses DNA injections, not vivisection. And, in a sort of flip-side, Moreau tries to turn Andrew into an animal. The end turns out much the same, regardless of who ends up killing whom, but the fact that the sailor escapes WITH the girl. Wells’ novel had no girl.

Panther Woman 2.0 — An element not in the book (though perhaps hinted at) was the “Panther Woman” named Lota in the 1932 version. Wells did describe a puma experiment in his book, though never as a woman, but a work-in-progress that eventually kills Moreau. In 1932, she had graduated to Moreau’s crowning achievement. Lovely and new-to-the-world, Lota was the “wild” love interest. In 1932, she (like the beast-folk) began to revert to her animal nature. While she was planning to escape with Parker, she sacrifices herself (battling the Ourangutan-man) to save her love. In IDM, the panther woman progresses more. Maria is like Lota in that she’s lovely and new-to-the-world. The screenplay and directing actually give no clear inkling that she is one of Moreau’s creations. The backstory Moreau tells (of a rescued child) could be true. After all, Moreau doesn’t seem too good at DNA-altering beast folks into tidy humans, so Maria would a fluke. The poster suggests that Maria was a panther, and might return being one. The screenplay does nothing with this. Then, for fans of the ’32 film who had wished that Lota could have escaped, they get their wish — just 45 years later.

Other Versions — In addition to the 1913 silent film, and the 1932 classic, there was a Filipino version made in 1959, Terror Is A Man. This, looser adaptation had the bad doctor create just one beast-man made from a panther. This film tried to be cerebral, like Wells, but was limited in budget. Terror was re-released in the 60s as Blood Creature and would spawn a cheap “Blood Island” horror series spinoff which had nothing to do with Wells’ story. Following IDM in 1996 would be another remake, this time starring Marlon Brando.

Bottom line? IDM is a reasonably well done remake of Wells’ story and the 1932 film version. The science part gets even thinner as a bit of lab table work and some hypodermic injections. The rest is old-school horror and things-chasing-people action. It made an interesting follow up to Day of the Animals released earlier in the same month. IDM is above average entertainment for an American International film, though still not a “great” film.

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