Directed By: Erie C. Kenton
“Are we not men?”
We’re taking a trip way way back today, back to a Devo song. Wait, no that’s not it. Right yeah we’re going to visit the island of Dr Moreau in the best of all the Moreau films (Though perhaps not the most entertaining if you’ve ever seen the late 90s Marlon Brando version).
Waking from a shipwreck, Edward Parker finds himself on a cargo boat headed to a mysterious island. The cargo? Live animals. The island? Still mysterious. Before we see the island we get a hint as to the nature of it when one of the men on the boat has somewhat dog-like features.
Through a few calamitious events Edward finds himself in the company of Dr Moreau who is the law on his little island and who, along with his assistant, is the only human looking inhabitant. It’s not long before Edward attracts the attention of ‘The Panther Woman’ as she’s titled as. That’s her up there on the poster.
You see, Moreau has found a way advance evolution. He started it on plants and then took to animals, thus creating them into hybrid-people. They still need laws however and Moreau is more than happy to crack his whip and play literal God to those on the island.
HG Wells supposedly was not happy with this movie given that it trades in his overtly philosophical themes for horror, but I would argue those themes are still present. There’s no getting around Moreau’s god complex, nor is there any getting around the image of a white man trying to culture a class of people he considers little more than animals. I don’t think race was on Wells’ mind when he wrote the book but it’s not hard to see it that way now given some of the more repugnant things we’ve heard throughout history (Or in corners of Reddit).
A few things still stand out about the movie now. One is Charles Laughton’s performance, here still early in his career, but clearly having a blast as he plays this unrepentant bastard of a man. The other performances are fine (Including an appearance from Bela Lugosi, buried under a lot of animal makeup and looking like Keanu Reeves in the underrated Freaked) but Laughton has the showiest role and of course he knows it. The other notable thing is the make-up for the citizens of the island. Even now it still works and I would’ve loved to have seen how it went over way back in 1932.
Lastly, this was before the hays code which is perhaps why the poster and tagline seem a lot racier than the movie deserves. For those that don’t know, Hollywood was under pressure from the more puritanical fringes to censor any adult content. Tinseltown was rife with scandal and this only bolstered the religious groups who had decided that the majority of movies had questionable content. So the Hays Code was introduced, which was a way for Hollywood to censor themselves with a big list of do’s and dont’s. It’s not that unsurprising that sex over horror is being used to sell the movie and though Tim Burton wanted to see Marky Mark and an ape-woman go a lot further in his Planet Of The Apes, this should have credit for featuring the first man on panther woman kiss. And really, how many times is that scenario going to come up?