Monday, July 2, 2012
On The Island Of Lost Souls!
Island of Lost Souls, a Paramount movie based on The Island of Dr.Moreau by H.G.Wells is one of those truly frightening movies from the earliest days of sound cinema. I've had a copy of the VHS version for years but despaired that I could not replace it on DVD along with most all of the other great horror cinema of that time, especially the stuff from Universal. But at long last it did arrive thanks to the folks at Criterion, who offer up quality packages but at somewhat steep prices. That price made me blink, but I was able to cough it up at last.
The Criterion package comes with several extras (though I'd have liked more, especially some more stuff on the Wells story itself). It offers up the movie with a really outstanding audio commentary by Gregory Mank, who does this the best of anyone I've ever encountered. He clearly does his research and carefully times his comments to key sequences in the movie. It's an enhanced viewing to listen to his commentaries. Richard Skal offers up a solid ten minutes of background and insight. There's also a conversation between John Landis, Rick Baker, and Bob Burns which sadly is ripe with personality, but low on actual information. An interview with the original director of the fiasco version of the story from 1996 is oddly done (with weird lighting) and offers up some meager insights into that failed project. A section on Devo, the band which drew some inspiration from the movie is pretty intriguing, but I'd have loved more here. All in all a pretty eclectic gathering but not really as developed as some packages I've come across.
Nonetheless, the main show is the movie and it's a grand mini-epic, a movie directed by Earle Kenton with precision and aplomb. Charles Laughton's Dr.Moreau is a hideous but fascinating creation, much more monsterous than anything he cobbled together on his vile operating table. Beautifully rendered by the great actor.
Bela Lugosi is famously in this one for a short time and offers up his typical over-the-top performance, but truth told it probably took something that large to overcome the wild make-up he has to wear. It's a testament to the strength of Bela's personality that he is instantly recognizable underneath all that fur.
A lot of the talk is centered on the Panther Woman, a part selected with a nationwide talent search which yielded the attractive Kathleen Burke. She's clearly a limited actress in this picture, and one who a lot is demanded of. There's a silent-screen quality to her acting which hurts the subtle aspects of the movie alas.
Leila Hyams (who turned down the role of Jane in the MGM Tarzan movies by the way) and Richard Arlen are very good in the heroic his and her roles necessary to keep this movie morally upright.
Visually the wrestler Max Steinke appearing as beast man Ouran steals a lot of the show. His lust for Lota (the Panther Girl) and later Leila Hyams is palpable and gives the movie a real sense of menace. His grin might the most horrific thing in the movie.
This movie is a spry and nimble story which doesn't waste a second of footage. That's what I love about these early flicks, the story is jammed in and each second is pregnant with meaning. Each scene tells us something, so staying focused on the screen is important. This movie is an excellent example of that kind of efficient and effective storytelling.
While the price tag is steep, the movie is of the highest quality. I recommend Island of Lost Souls for one and all (save the kiddies of course).