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'The Island of Doctor Moreau' - the 1977 Film

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The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' | The 1977 Film | The 1996 Film

You're an animal!
- Moreau, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Plot

It is the beginning of the 20th Century. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean drifts a lifeboat containing two survivors of the wreck of the Lady Vain. After 17 days at sea the winds and the ocean currents wash them up on an unknown island. One of the survivors, Charlie, dies soon after under mysterious circumstances, while the other, Andrew Braddock, falls unconscious and awakens four days later. There he meets the island's inhabitants: Doctor Moreau, his mercenary assistant Montgomery, their servant M'Ling and the beautiful Maria. They live in a walled compound to protect them from the island's animal inhabitants, and Braddock learns that Moreau has lived on the island, located over a thousand miles from anywhere, for 11 years.

While Braddock is working to repair his lifeboat he falls in love with Maria. However, while outside the compound one day he is chased by mysterious animals. Soon after, he sees M'Ling in shackles being taken into a hut in the compound he has not previously explored, and inside finds a monstrous bear-like man. On further exploration of the island he finds a cave full of Manimals who have their own law, and learns that Moreau has been experimenting, turning animals into men. Yet Moreau's process is flawed; all his Manimals revert to their original form. He also learns that Moreau has been lying and that no ship is due to arrive on the island for two years.

Shortly after, an escaped tiger attacks the Bull-man. Defending himself, the Bull-man kills the tiger, and as one of Moreau's laws is 'Not to shed blood', the Bull-man's sentence is to be sent to the House of Pain, Moreau's laboratory, to be experimented on. The Bull-man flees and is caught; he begs Braddock to have mercy and kill him, which Braddock does. Moreau drugs Braddock, cages him and begins to turn him into an animal, hoping that if a man undergoes this procedure he would be able to narrate the process and tell Moreau about it. Montgomery then turns on Moreau, but is shot. Montgomery is taken away by M'Ling but he dies before they reach the Manimals' cave. The Sayer of the Law states 'Not to shed blood, that is the Law' and that as Moreau has broken the law, he must go to the House of Pain. The Manimals approach the compound, and though Moreau attempts to restore order by using his horse and his whip, he is beaten, bitten and killed. His last words, to Braddock are 'You're an animal!'

The half-human Braddock, rescued from his cage by Maria, attempts to restore order. He shouts to the Manimals that Moreau is still alive and can still see them, raising his corpse over the gate to the compound. The Manimals nevertheless attack the compound, which is destroyed. Although the Sayer of the Law attempts to restore control, he is ignored. The Manimals head to the laboratory where Moreau kept his menagerie of laboratory animals, and despite the Sayer of the Law shouting, 'No, don't open those cages!' the animals inside, including panthers, lions and tigers and bears, are released.

The Manimals are attracted to the animals they once were and release them from their captivity. Yet the pure, unchanged animals turn on Moreau's creations and promptly kill them. M'Ling, who stays loyal to Braddock, is also killed, and Braddock and Maria escape to the repaired lifeboat. After a struggle with the last surviving Manimal, Maria and Braddock flee the island. At the end, Braddock regains his humanity but, unnoticed, Maria is in the early stages of regressing, growing sharp, pointy teeth...

Cast

CharacterActor
MenDoctor Paul MoreauBurt Lancaster
Andrew BraddockMichael York
MontgomeryNigel Davenport
WomanMariaBarbara Carrera
ManimalsSayer of the LawRichard Basehart
M'LingNick Cravat
BoarmanThe Great John L
BullmanBob Ozman
Hy├Žna ManFumio Demura
LionmanGary Baxley
TigermanJohn Gillespie
BearmanDavid Cass

Burt Lancaster is highly regarded as one of America's greatest screen actors, appearing in films such as The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Sweet Smell of Success, Elmer Gantry and Field of Dreams. He often starred in films with his close friend Nick Cravat, who plays M'Ling in this production. Michael York is a British actor who was at the peak of his popularity when this film was made, having appeared in Cabaret in 1972, and as D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), as well as starring in Logan's Run (1976). More recently he has starred as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers trilogy. Barbara Carrera is remembered for appearing in Dallas and for being an unofficial Bond girl in Never Say Never Again.

The film was directed by Don Taylor, who also directed Escape from the Planet of the Apes and went on to direct Damien: Omen II after The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Differences from the Novel

There are numerous differences from Wells' original novel. Firstly, the hero is renamed Andrew Braddock rather than Edward Prendick. Braddock is an engineer in the film, rather than a biology student, and Montgomery is a mercenary rather than a fellow scientist. As far as characters are concerned, the biggest change is the introduction of Maria, the mysterious female lead with a secret.

The plot broadly follows that of the novel, but with some significant changes. Rather than being the sole survivor and being rescued at sea, Braddock and his friend Charlie come directly to the Island. Moreau is not called the Manimals' father and there is practically no interaction between Moreau and his creations until Braddock explores the island.

One significant difference is that, in order to increase the horror of the film, Moreau has no qualms about experimenting on Braddock and turning him into an animal. He is also potrayed as being aware of Braddock's intimate relationship with Maria. He performs his experiments using a serum which changes the shape of an animal into whatever Moreau desires but, as in the novel, the Manimal always reverts to its original form.

Review

The 1977 film version of The Island of Doctor Moreau is not a classic horror film like 1932's Island of Lost Souls nor a fascinating film failure like the 1996 film. As a solid, but not outstanding, film, it lacks the attraction of the overwhelmingly disastrous flop made twenty years later and simply is not as well-made as the first film adaptation of Wells' classic.

That Braddock gets to the island at the very beginning tightens up the action, yet the audience never really learns of his friend Charlie's true fate, leaving a question annoyingly unanswered. The last we know of him are screams and we later learn that he was buried, having apparently died of thirst. Was he killed by one of the Manimals, or by the tiger that's on the loose? Or even by Moreau and Montgomery? We never know, which leaves the audience unsure as to whether or not Braddock is in any danger on the island, thus evaporating any dramatic tension.

The character of Maria comes across as a modernised version of Island of Lost Souls' Lota. Moreau observes Maria and Braddock together, yet we never know whether he approves of the union, as Moreau did in Island of Lost Souls, or whether their union results in his jealousy and is one of the motives behind his experimenting on Braddock. Moreau's motives are undefined and Maria's role is vague. She is there to be little more than a sex object as, unlike in the earlier film, Braddock and Maria clearly do more than cuddle. Her true nature is hinted at, though; as the other Manimals are attracted to (and later killed by) the species they once were, Maria keeps a large cat on a lead. At one point the cat escapes and Maria and Braddock chase after it1. Although the film's poster promises that it would feature a woman turning into a cat, this never actually occurs other than in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it last scene.

The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' | The 1977 Film | The 1996 Film
1This is never a good idea in a 70s science fiction film: see 1979's Alien for details.

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