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Island of Lost Souls

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Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen
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Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi,  Richard Arlen

Synopsis of  Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls. After his ship goes down, Edward Parker is rescued at sea. But when he gets into a fight with the captain of the ship that rescued him,  the captain maroons him while making a delivery to the tiny tropical island of Dr. Moreau. Moreau is very secretive, and Parker discovers why.  The doctor is a whip-cracking cruel task master to a growing population of his own gruesome human/animal experiments.  Only the beautiful Lota appears truly human … But she shows signs of her panther ancestry. Parker’s fortunes for escape look up after his fiancee Ruth finds him with the help of Captain Donohue.  But Dr. Moreau has violated one of his own laws, and his bestial creations will hold him to account!

Cast of Characters in  Island of Lost Souls

  • Dr. Moreau (Charles LaughtonAdvise and Consent).  The amoral scientist, who believes that the search for knowledge trumps all else. Behind a veneer of culture he’s a cruel, manipulative man. He believes that the end justifies the means … And the end he has in view is a triumphant return to London. Where he has been exiled.
  • Edward Parker (Richard Arlen, Wings).  The shipwrecked sailor, who gets marooned on Moreau’s island. Whom Moreau doesn’t want to leave. Since he’s useful for testing his creatures’ reactions
  • Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams, Freaks, Ruggles of Red Gap).  Parker’s fiancee, who never gives up searching for him — and eventually find him on Moreau’s island, where Moreau feels that she may come between Parker and Lota
  • Lota (Kathleen Burke, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer).  Moreau’s most successful experiment, the panther-woman seems almost human — to the point of jealousy, and tears
  • Montgomery (Arthur Hohl, Show Boat 1936). Former doctor, Moreau’s reluctant right-hand man.
  • Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi, Dracula, Son of Frankenstein).  The leader of Moreau’s creatures, who repeats the Law to them …. And later holds Moreau accountable when he breaks it, leading to an open rebellion
  • Captain Monroe  (Paul HurstGone with the WindScared Stiff).  The sailor whom, against his best wishes, Ruth coerces to try and rescue Parker
  • Captain Davies (Stanley FieldsLittle Caesar, Way Out West).  The alcoholic captain that abandons Parker, and whom Moreau abuses and despises

Review of Island of Lost Souls

Dr. Moreau: Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?

That sentence, in a nutshell, contains the motivation for Dr. Moreau. Having been driven from London because of his unethical experiments. He’s using surgical and chemical means to attempt to duplicate Darwinian evolution on animals, and turn them into men. He’s failed in the attempt. On his island, his failures live in their own village, held in control by their memory of “the house of pain” — the surgery when Moreau does his work.

Dr. Moreau pretends to be civilized and cultured. But in truth, he’s a brute of a man, who enjoys inflicting pain, whether on his beast-men or killing Captain Davies. It’s this moment, in fact, that brings about his downfall. To keep his beast-men under control, he has them live by “the law” — recited daily by the Sayer of the Law, performed wonderfully by Bela Lugosi:

What is the law?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

But when Dr. Moreau murders Captain Davies, he has spilled blood … and broken the law. And the Sayer of the Law holds him responsible:

Dr. Moreau: Have you forgotten the house of pain?
Sayer of the Law: You! You made us in the house of pain! You made us… things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man… part beast! Things!

In short,  The Island of Lost Souls is frankly excellent, with great acting by Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, and very good acting by everyone else. It’s arguably the best film version of  H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau made to this point. I rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Editorial review of  Island of Lost Souls courtesy of

When you’ve got Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, how can you go wrong? Shipwreck victim Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is stranded on an island run by the mysterious Dr.  Moreau (Laughton). Moreau is hospitable enough, but the jungle is full of menacing shapes–and what about those ominous references to the House of Pain? Parker gradually learns of Moreau’s unholy experiments and worries that he’ll never escape. Though it has aged a bit, Island of Lost Souls is surprisingly spine-tingling, particularly the horrifying climax.

Light and shadows are used especially well–occasionally, Moreau speaks with his face entirely hidden, except for his glittering eyes. Laughton turns in yet another superbly evil performance and even the somewhat worse-for-wear Lugosi is creepy as the pronouncer of the law. (“Are we not men?” Well, no, not exactly.) This is a nicely chilling classic that may even make you think twice about modern science’s experimentation with genetics. Don’t miss it. Remade as The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1977 and 1996. –Ali Davis

A twisted treasure from Hollywood’s pre-Code horror heyday, Island of Lost Souls is a cautionary tale of science run amok adapted from H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. In one of his first major movie roles, Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII) is a mad doctor conducting ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of the shipwrecked sailor (Richard Arlen) who finds himself trapped there. This touchstone of movie terror, directed by Erle C. Kenton (House of Frankenstein), is elegantly shot by Karl Struss (The Great Dictator), features groundbreaking makeup effects that inspired generations of monster-movie artists, and costars Bela Lugosi (Dracula) in one his most gruesome roles.

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