November 3, 2018
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Grade: 75/100

Director: Erle C. Kenton
Stars: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Kathleen Burke

What it's about. An outrageous early talkie horror movie. Strapping but humorless Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is engaged to beautiful and equally dull Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams). Parker is en route to his betrothed when his ship sinks. The sole survivor, he is rescued by another ship, the Apia, and nursed back to health by a passenger, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl).

Parker quarrels with its unruly captain (Stanley Fields), who kicks Parker off the ship and into Montgomery's smaller boat, destined for the isolated tropical island of his employer, Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). The mad doctor has surgically created a small army of humanoid former animals, chief among them burly Ouran (Hans Steinke), servant M'ling (Tetsu Komai), chieftain Bela Lugosi (recently of Dracula fame), and The Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke).

Parker wants to leave for civilization and his would-be bride, but cynical Moreau instead wants Parker to mate with The Panther Woman. And she needs little persuasion, though Parker is ambivalent. Parker's character turn is cut short by Ruth, who has tracked him down with the aid of adventurous skipper Donahue (Paul Hurst). Moreau schemes to keep Parker and Ruth on the island, but his plan backfires when the island's subhuman creatures riot.

How others will see it. 1930s audiences were repelled by this movie. The sight, sounds, and actions of the "half man, half beast" island creatures threatened the religious beliefs and morality of the public, both at home and abroad.

Thus, the film was a commercial failure, and generally condemned by critics of the day. By the 1960s, though, racy pre-code movies developed a following, to the benefit of Island of Lost Souls and another "shocking" horror film, Freaks (1932).

Today at, our movie has nearly 7K user votes, which appears low but is many multiples the totals of the typical 1932 movie. For example, The Sin of Madelon Claudet, which generated the 1933 Best Actress Oscar for Helen Hayes, presently has only 662 user votes.

Island of Lost Souls also has a high 7.5 user rating, which rises to 7.7 among viewers over 45. The typical comment calls it a "still disturbing horror movie." Of course, they are complainers, such as the critic who pronounced that "even Laughton couldn't save this movie."

How I felt about it. This is indeed Laughton's movie, and he camps it up. He enjoys himself immensely as the sadistic and supremely self-confident mad doctor of his island micronation, where he rules over the gruesome manimals and his glum, hard-drinking subordinate Montgomery.

We are expected to identify with Richard Arlen, whose character prefers his hottie and loyal blonde fiancée to the comely and willing brunette Panther Lady. True, you can't take the latter to the opera house, but you won't have to put up with a mother-in-law, or listen to her prattle on about the ideal shade of wallpaper.

But the fun characters, besides Laughton and The Panther Woman, are the captains who confuse their rule on a ship with their far more limited authority on land. Captain Davies (Stanley Fields) does his best Wallace Beery imitation, while cocky Donahue channels Walter Huston.

Purportedly a horror movie, Island of Lost Souls works much better as a comedy. We note that, in particular, all the island's residents save for Montgomery are animal victims of Dr. Moreau, yet Parker only wants to rescue the only female among them. I'm sure that The Panther Woman would get along great with the fiancée, Ruth.